Air Pollution Within EPA Standards Affects Our Lungs


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The Air Quality Index (AQI), developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), tells us how clean or polluted our outdoor air is. It’s a useful tool to help us understand whether outdoor air is considered safe or risky.

Mary Rice M.D., a member of our Affiliated Faculty, was the lead author on a study to understand if healthy lungs performed differently on days the AQI deemed as “moderate,” compared to days labeled as “good.” The air quality on both good and moderate days is considered “acceptable” for public health, though EPA warns that moderate days may be unhealthy for people with who are “unusually sensitive” to air pollution.

People without respiratory diseases—such as COPD or asthma—generally feel no different on moderate days. Even so, Dr. Rice’s study found that the lungs of healthy men and women did not perform as well on moderate days compared to good days.

This finding suggests that the general population, not only “unusually sensitive” people, may experience respiratory effects from pollution at levels that are considered to be safe.


Mary B. Rice, Petter L. Ljungman, Elissa H. Wilker, Diane R. Gold, Joel D. Schwartz, Petros Koutrakis, George R. Washko, George T. O’Connor, and Murray A. Mittleman "Short-Term Exposure to Air Pollution and Lung Function in the Framingham Heart Study", American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Vol. 188, No. 11 (2013), pp. 1351-1357.

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