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A regional public media collaboration serving the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Report Shows Less Pollution Means Healthier, Longer Lives

Judy Fahys/KUER News
Winter inversions boost soot pollution, which is also known as PM2.5. A new report by the American Thoracic Society shows pollution's cost to health could be reduced by toughening pollution laws.

A new report from the American Thoracic Society shows how tightening federal air-pollution standards would pay off in better health and longer lives.

The report says loose standards for ozone and fine-particles lead to more than 200 people in the Mountain West dying prematurely each year. And the pollution would make 500 fewer people sick each year if EPA adopted the stricter air-quality standards recommended by the society.

“What this paper shows us is that levels of air pollution that we previously called ‘not bad’ actually are contributing to increased deaths,” said Rob Paine, a Salt Lake City pulmonologist and thoracic society member.

When regulators propose lower limits on ozone and fine-particle pollution, industry protests because of the added cost to the bottom line. But thoracic society’s report turns that idea on its head. It shows the cost to human health when air-pollution standards aren’t tough enough.

“Now the regulatory groups can look at that [data] and say: Is it worth the effort it takes to improve our air quality in order to have fewer deaths?”

One striking finding was how many lung-cancer cases could be avoided if EPA lowered acceptable pollution standards to the levels suggested by the thoracic society. It would mean 28 fewer cases in Idaho and 16 less in Utah. There would be 10 fewer in Montana and 2 less in Colorado.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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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