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

Air pollution in Taipei, Taiwan.

Published November 21, 2019

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

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.

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. in: Chicago; Winston-Salem, NC; 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,” says study first author Dr. Meng Wang, assistant professor of epidemiology and environmental health in the University of Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Dr. Wang conducted the research as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington.

“We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans — in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema,” says senior co-author, Dr. Joel Kaufman, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences University of Washington’s School of Public Health.