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- Society Guardian,
- Tuesday April 15 2008
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This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Tuesday April 15 2008. It was last updated at 16:13 on April 15 2008.
A Birmingham university report has identified a ‘strong correlation’ between deaths by pneumonia and traffic emissions in England. Photograph: Andy Butterton/PA
Thousands of people in England have died from pneumonia caused by pollution, a report suggested today.
There is a “strong correlation” between deaths, engine exhaust fumes and other transport-related substances, according to the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Professor George Knox, emeritus professor at the university of Birmingham, looked at details of atmospheric emissions, published causes of death and expected causes of death from 1996 to 2004.
The data, gathered from 352 local authority areas in England, was used to calculate the impact of pollution on death rates.
He wrote: “Correlations with pneumonia deaths were exceptional. High mortality rates were observed in areas with elevated ambient pollution levels. The strongest single effect was an increase in pneumonia deaths.
“Road transport was the chief source of the emissions responsible although it was not possible to discriminate between the different chemical components.”
In total, 386,374 people died from pneumonia in England during the eight-year period but there were widespread regional variations.
In the 35 (10%) local authorities with the highest disease-specific death rates, there were 53,821 pneumonia deaths. This was 14,718 more than the expected national rate, the study showed.
Calculations revealed that pneumonia, peptic ulcers, coronary and rheumatic heart diseases, lung and stomach cancers and other diseases were associated with a range of combustion emissions.
Other relevant factors were social deprivation, smoking, binge drinking and living in the north of England. When the social factors were taken into account, the data still revealed that deaths from pneumonia were strongly and independently linked to emissions, with the exception of sulphur dioxide from coal burning.
Knox said many of the pneumonia deaths were probably caused by “direct chemical injury”.
“Total annual losses as a result of air pollution, through pneumonia, probably approach those of the 1952 London smog,” he added.
“Excess deaths assigned to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and rheumatic heart disease, two diseases with chronic respiratory inadequacy, can also be interpreted as directly contact toxic.
“The excess deaths from lung and stomach cancers and peptic ulcers are more difficult to interpret but the same pollutants may have acted as adjuvants to other agents, facilitating their access to sensitive tissues.
“The lung cancer and stomach cancer associations were identical in men and in women, reducing the likelihood of a specific occupational effect.”
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