According to information just released by the California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board (ARB) up to 24,000 deaths a year may be attributed to particulate pollution. The figure is triple that of previous official estimates.
The new data was compiled by USC, who tracked 23,000 people in greater Los Angeles, and the American Cancer Society, who tracked 300,000 people nationwide.
One the reasons that the new estimated death toll is so much higher, is that experts had previously underestimated the dangers of particulate matter, which is too small to be caught by the body's own nose and throat, hair and mucous filtration system, and lodges deep in lungs, causing all manner of health problems such as asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
"Our report concludes these particles are 70% more dangerous than previously thought, based on several major studies that have occurred in the last five years," said the ARB's chief researcher, Bart Croes, in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. "There's no death certificate that says specifically someone died of air pollution, but cities with higher rates of air pollution have much greater rates of death from cardiovascular diseases."
As shown on the California Environmental Protection Agency maps above, California has more counties designated for nonattainment of PM-10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in size) safety levels in the "serious" classification than the rest of the U.S. put together. A similar map also shows widespread non-compliance for PM-2.5 safety levels (a classification for smaller particles) in California.
Not un-coincidentally, according to data compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 1996, the top 5 metropolitan areas in the nation ranked by mortality rates attributable to particulate matter are all in California. The worst offender was Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, followed by Riverside-San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Fresno, and Stockton.
With such toxic air effectively fatally poisoning 24,000 people per year in the Golden State, drastic measures, such as the Bay Area's new pollution tax, are sorely needed.
"Particle pollution is a silent killer," said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. "We must work even harder to cut these life-shortening emissions by further addressing pollution sources head-on."
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