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Even low-level pollution associated with increased risk of early death

4 April 2019


A new CAR study has found that even the low levels of air pollution in Sydney are associated with increased risk of premature mortality.


The study is the first in the world to assess a cohort at such low concentrations, and provides further evidence that there is no safe level of air pollution, according to lead author Dr Ivan Hanigan, CAR’s data scientist.


The study, published in Environment International, assessed the association between mortality and exposure to fine airborne particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in Sydney, where concentrations are relatively low by world standards.


The researchers analysed data from more than 75,000 people aged 45 years and over in Sydney from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study cohort.


They found that pollution exposure was associated with increased risk of mortality in this group of adults, even at the relatively low concentrations seen in Sydney. 


Dr Hanigan said the findings were in line with those from cities exposed to higher levels of air pollution, but this result added new information about exposures at the low end of the spectrum to show there were still increased risks of premature mortality.

“The study provides further evidence that there is no safe lower threshold for air pollution effects on health in general, and mortality in particular, and that reducing air pollution further is likely to increase life expectancy,” Dr Hanigan said.




Dr Ivan Hanigan ... the study shows there is no safe level of air pollution.

He said the study showed the need for individuals and governments to work towards reducing air pollution.

“We should all be thinking about how to reduce car trips by riding bikes and using public transport, being more efficient with electricity use at home and work, and converting to cleaner technologies for heating homes,” said Dr Hanigan, a research fellow at the University of Sydney.


He said governments and decision makers needed to consider trade-offs between the financial costs of changing to cleaner energy and transport sectors (e.g. fewer freeways, more public transport, zero emission electricity) versus the economic benefits of a healthier population.

Read the paper

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