Don’t smoke? Good for you. The habit is a real killer, emphysema being among its awful hazards. But if you think this lung disease is just for smokers, think again. The very air you breathe could put you at risk.
An 18-year health study involving 7,000 adults has found that long-term exposure to elevated ground-level ozone over a 10-year period was about the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years. Participants received up to five CAT-scans over more than a decade. They showed that many nonsmokers in the group developed emphysema.
Researchers said they discovered that an increase of about 3-parts-per-billion of ozone outside someone’s home produced the type of lung damage most often seen in heavy smokers.
Emphysema is an irreversible condition in which the air sacs of the lungs are damaged. It causes difficulty breathing and can lead to death.
The cities where the study participants lived were New York City; Chicago; Los Angeles; Baltimore; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But researchers caution ozone increases leading to emphysema could probably be found in numerous locations around the country.
Street-level ozone is formed by a reaction of man-made pollutants from fossil fuels in sunlight and stagnant air. Exposure can cause wheezing and shortness of breath, and it especially aggravates asthma.
Such pollution is expected to increase as a consequence of climate change. The results of the study are bound to add to the debate about reducing fossil fuel dependency. And it adds to evidence that pollution plays an important role in lung health.