University at Buffalo: Study Suggests Air Pollution Can Accelerate Lung Disease as Much as A Pack of Cigarettes a Day

Meng Wang, PhD.
“To our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study to assess the association between long-term exposure to air pollutants and progression of percent emphysema in a large, community-based, multi-ethnic cohort.”
Meng Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor
Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health

Published August 22, 2019

Air pollution, especially ozone air pollution that’s increasing with climate change, accelerates the progression of emphysema of the lung, according to a new study led by the University of Washington, Columbia University and the University at Buffalo.

While previous studies have shown a clear connection of air pollutants with some heart and lung diseases, the new research, published in JAMA, demonstrates an association between long-term exposure to all major air pollutants — especially ozone — with an increase in emphysema seen on lung scans.

Emphysema is a condition in which destruction of lung tissue leads to wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, and increases the risk of death.

The results are based on an extensive, 18-year study involving more than 7,000 people and a detailed examination of the air pollution they encountered between 2000 and 2018 in six metropolitan regions across the U.S.: Chicago; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Baltimore; Los Angeles; St. Paul, Minnesota; and New York City. The participants were drawn from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) Air and Lung studies.

“To our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study to assess the association between long-term exposure to air pollutants and progression of percent emphysema in a large, community-based, multi-ethnic cohort,” said study first author Dr. Meng Wang, an assistant professor of epidemiology and environmental health in University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

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