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Climate Change May Boost Contact With Pollutants

Exposure to elevated ozone levels associated with increased hospital admissions

FRIDAY, Dec. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Global climate change may lead to a rise in health problems due to increased exposure to harmful air pollutants, suggest researchers who reviewed studies projecting the impact of climate change on air quality.

The review authors also concluded that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could help reduce the harmful effects of climate change.

The review looked at how climate change will affect ground-level ozone, a known pulmonary irritant that affects the respiratory mucous membranes, other lung tissues, and respiratory function. Exposure to elevated levels of ozone is associated with increased hospital admissions for asthma, allergic rhinitis, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other respiratory diseases.

"Projections suggest that climate change will increase concentrations of tropospheric ozone, at least in high-income countries, when precursor emissions are held constant, which would increase morbidity and mortality," wrote review authors Kristie L. Ebi and Glenn McGregor. "The potential impact of climate change on ozone concentrations have not been projected for low-income countries, many of which currently have significantly higher ozone exposures."

The authors said further research is needed to better project the health impacts caused by changing concentrations of ozone caused by climate change. They said areas of uncertainty include the projected degree of future climate change, the impact of future emissions and their pathways, potential changing weather patterns, severity of episodes of poor air quality, and changes in population vulnerability.

The review findings were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. According to journal editor-in-chief Hugh A. Tilson: "As we reduce vehicle-based emissions of pollutants, urban concentrations of ozone will also be reduced, thereby positively protecting the health of humans for generations to come."

In 2000, urban air pollution caused 800,000 deaths and resulted in 7.9 million disability-adjusted life-years lost due to respiratory problems, lung disease and cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

More information

The World Health Organization has more about climate change and health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Environmental Health Perspectives, news release, December 2008

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