Researchers looked at how exposure to four main pollutants affected lung health in 7,071 adults aged 45 to 84 living in six US cities.
They measured levels of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, black carbon and ozone outside participants’ homes and carried out CT scans to track the development of emphysema and lung decline.
Long-term exposure to air pollution can exacerbate lung disease as much as a daily 20-pack of cigarettes, a study has found.
Senior co-author Dr Joel Kaufman, from the University of Washington, said: “We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans, in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema.” The professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and epidemiology added: it appears that air pollution exposures that are common and hard to avoid might be a major contributor.”
The authors believe levels will continue to rise unless more steps are taken to reduce fossil fuel emissions and curb climate change. They said it is not clear what level of air pollutants, if any, is safe for humans