A past study by the nonprofit RAND Corporation shows that over a three-year period, air pollution caused more than $193 million in hospital costs for conditions like pneumonia and asthma. The study covered 2005 through 2007 and sought to determine if air pollution's costs could be quantified. They could and the sum is significant. But this is not solely relevant to researchers and politicians. Though the overall level of air pollution won't change overnight, if you're concerned about air pollution's effect on your health, you can purchase a HEPA air purifier to reduce your indoor air pollution.
California and Costs
Among all 50 states, California has the largest number of people living in areas that don't meet federal clean air standards. The cost of air pollution-related health care visits equaled what it would cost to provide flu vaccines to 85% of the state's children under age 15. Study authors noted that improving air quality is important both health-wise and budget-wise, especially given California's continuing budget woes. The study's lead author, John Romley, noted: "These costs may not be the largest problem caused by dirty air, but our study provides more evidence about the impact that air pollution has on the state's economy."
Putting a Dollar Amount on Air Pollution
RAND's study is the first to quantify hospital-based medical costs as a result of air pollution, assigning amounts to both public and private payers. The study covered the years 2005 to 2007, focusing on the four-county South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley. It also included smaller case studies of individual hospitals in Sacramento, Riverside, Palo Alto, Lynwood, and Fresno. The case studies served to illustrate that the costs of healthcare visits varies by region. Los Angeles and Orange Counties accounted for more than half of the $193 million. Overall, exposure to high levels of ozone and fine particulate matter caused almost 30,000 healthcare visits over the three years. Public-funded insurance paid for most of the costs; Medicare and Medi-Cal paid for almost two-thirds of the total.
Researchers first gathered epidemiological studies linking elevated air pollution levels to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and compared them with records of hospitals and air pollution agencies. From this, they could determine how air pollution affected insurance spending, both private and public. They looked specifically at hospital admissions due to respiratory and cardiovascular conditions as well as at emergency room visits caused by asthma attacks.
Trends in the Healthcare Data
The data revealed several trends. The most common healthcare visit was to an emergency room requiring care for an asthmatic child age 17 and under because of elevated air pollution. There were more than 12,000 such ER visits during the three years. The most expensive health care visits were hospital admissions for pneumonia, acute bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These three conditions totaled nearly a third of the $193 million. And almost 75% of the health care visits were due to fine particulate matter which are microscopic particles that settle deep in the lungs.
Limitations to the Data
$193 million is a conservative estimate. It doesn't account for outpatient care that people get from clinics or doctor's offices. Since data about those visits are not routinely reported to state agencies, the researchers couldn't include it. That means that the true cost of air pollution is likely significantly higher.
Air Purifiers for Reduced Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor air is two to five-times more polluted than air outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Even more worrisome: you take 9 of 10 breaths indoors. If you're concerned about the effects of air pollution, the best way to address them is to clean the air you breathe at home. A HEPA air purifier is the most effective way to do that. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are scientifically proven to remove 99.97% of airborne particles of size 0.3 microns and above. Many HEPA air purifiers also include activated carbon filters which remove volatile organic compounds (VOC's). Thus, HEPA air purifiers can remove a wide array of pollutants from your home's air, leaving you breathing easy.
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