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Air pollution warnings "ineffective"

Wednesday January 10th, 2018

Government actions seeking to protect the public from air pollution are infective, public health specialists say today.

Many countries are using air quality alerts – but researchers say there is little evidence they are protecting public health.

Dr Hong Chen of Public Health Ontario, Canada, and colleagues explain that many governments around the world are using air quality alert programmes to reduce the adverse health impact on days when air pollution is high.

To discover whether these programmes produce any observable public health benefits, the research team used information on the about 2.6 million population of the city of Toronto from 2003 to 2012. During this time, alerts were issued on 62 days. The team examined seven health outcomes known to be affected by short-term elevation of air pollution.

This showed that air quality alerts announcements to inform the public of the potential dangers reduced asthma-related emergency department visits by an estimated 25%, or about 4.73 fewer asthma-related admissions per million people per day.

In The Lancet Planetary Health, they write: "We did not detect a significant reduction in any other health outcome as a result of alert announcements. However, a non-significant trend was noted towards decreased asthma-related and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease-related admissions."

They add: "This finding suggests that issuing air quality alerts alone has a limited effect on public health, and that implementing enforced public actions to reduce air pollution on high pollution days could be warranted."

They conclude: "This study underscores the need for further strengthening of global efforts that can lead to long-term improvement of overall air quality."

Chen, H. et al. Effect of air quality alerts on human health: a regression discontinuity analysis in Toronto, Canada. The Lancet Planetary Health 10 January 2018; doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(17)30185-7 [abstract]

Tags: North America | Respiratory | Traveller Health | World Health

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