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Study: Air Pollution Even Affects Healthy People

Mark A. Philbrick
BYU Photo
C. Arden Pope has new study looking at blood biomarkers that help explain the cascade of impacts from air pollution.

A new study from Brigham Young University shows that air pollution sends the human body into high alert -- even in healthy people.

Brigham Young University researcher C. Arden Pope has shown in past papers that air pollution can sicken people and even cause premature death. His new paper suggests how that damage is done.

“What we wanted to do was look at biological mechanisms,” he says, “and just try to explain how breathing air pollution can contribute not only to lung disease but also cardiovascular disease.”

Pope discovered this by drawing blood from 72 subjects in Utah County over three years. He measured certain biochemical markers in their blood when the air was clean and during high-pollution episodes. Not only did those markers signal that the body was injured but also that healing responses were stifled.

“The fact that we can see these effects in these young people helps us really understand that air pollution affects all of us, whether we have existing cardiovascular disease or not,” he says.

Pope says the study findings are solid, but he’d like to see other researchers explore the same questions with different groups of people in different locations.

“At some point we might want to ask ourselves, ‘Do we have enough information? Are we starting to understand what’s really going on?’”

The latest study helps fill in a small piece in the big puzzle of how pollution harms health.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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