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Back To Vidyya Traffic Pollution Is Responsible For 3 Percent Of Deaths In Austria, France And Switzerland

40,000 Deaths Are Directly Attributable To Outdoor Air Pollution In The Area Each Year

Traffic pollution is responsible for about 3 percent of deaths across Austria, France and Switzerland--about half of all outdoor pollution deaths there, a scientific researcher said Saturday.

Dr. Nico Kunzli of the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Basel, Switzerland, told colleagues at the World Congress on Lung Health that his team estimated that 6 percent of deaths per year, or 40,000, are directly attributable to outdoor air pollution across those Alpine countries.

He used the level of invisible inhalable particles floating in the air to measure outdoor air pollution. Many experts believe that about half of those come from traffic pollution, which includes not only exhaust emissions but also dust from tires and debris disturbed by traffic. On that basis, Kunzli assigned half the blame to traffic.

"More than 60 studies now have come up with virtually the same result" of 6 percent, said Daniel Costa, chief of the pulmonary toxicology branch at the National Health and Environmental Effects Research laboratory of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "This is an international confirmation."

Previous research has focused on cities, a collection of cities or single countries. Not all of them used the same methods to measure the impact of air pollution on health.

The new study emerged from a World Health Organization project to create a coordinated European transport policy to reduce pollution.

"Despite unavoidable uncertainties, the authors have reported a straightforward method for estimating health costs of traffic-related air pollution," Stephanie London and Isabelle Romieu of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences wrote in a critique of the work published in The Lancet medical journal. They said the results were a first step toward the European goal of making motorists pay for the true costs driving imposes on society.

The study estimated that each year, traffic pollution causes more than 25,000 new cases of chronic bronchitis in adults, more than 290,000 episodes of bronchitis among children and more than 500,000 asthma attacks. Costa said Kunzli used the best method available to make his estimates.

"The higher the level of pollution, the higher the fraction attributable to traffic," Kunzli said. "But Switzerland, Austria and France is a rather good example for conditions in mid-Europe."

Air pollution has been blamed both for aggravating illnesses and for bringing on heart and lung diseases. Most of the deaths are from heart or lung complications.

Research has shown that because pollution affects different people in different ways, there is no threshold that is "safe" for everybody. A pollution level that may trigger a reaction in one person may be fine for another, experts say.


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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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