UK scientists have published a study suggesting that the health impacts of air pollution from coal-fired power plants may be linked with lung cancer.
The scientists have also said the study “demonstrates that a number of other diseases can be associated with air pollution”.
Their findings were published on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The researchers examined data from more than 400,000 patients who were followed for two decades and found that, as they aged, their levels of exposure to CO2, NOx and particulate matter were significantly lower than their peers.
In the long-term, this is in line with the findings of a previous study by researchers at Imperial College London which found that the lung cancer rate among middle-aged people was around five times lower than among young people.
“There’s been a lot of evidence that the human lung cancer mortality rate has been declining over the past decade and that this may be due to improvements in lung function,” Dr Andrew Whelan, lead author of the study from the Centre for Health and Environmental Research at Imperial, said.
“In other words, the air we breathe has been improving, and this may in part be due more to changes in the lung.”
Dr Whelans group had previously found that CO2 exposure was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer among men in the UK, but their study is the first to look at the association among women.
“This study is an important first step towards answering some of the most fundamental questions about the role of air quality in cancer,” he said.
Dr Wlesztyn said it was important that the findings were confirmed in future studies because air quality is a complex issue and could be a predictor of a range of health outcomes.
“It’s important to consider how air quality relates to other important health outcomes, like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and asthma,” she said.
The study looked at the health of 6,988 people in the same age group and across different time periods.
Dr James Poulton, an air quality researcher at University College London, said the findings “demonstrate the important role of community air quality as a potential causal factor for lung cancer in older adults”.
“Air quality is increasingly being used as a proxy for air pollution, and it has been suggested that this might have an impact on health,” he added.
“However, the findings in this study are of interest not only because they demonstrate the link between air quality and lung cancer, but also because they show that community air pollution may have a greater impact on lung cancer than previously thought.”‘
Coal power plants are a major contributor’The researchers found that women in the age group in which they were followed were five times more likely to have asthma, six times more often to have COPD, and four times more frequently to have lung cancer compared to men.
“While this may not be the whole story, the increase in asthma prevalence among older women is a substantial contributor to the increased risk for lung disease among older men,” Dr Wlespyn said.
There was a significant association between air pollution and lung health in the people who were exposed to the highest levels of CO2 over the study period.
“However, we did not find any association between CO2 and lung disease in the study population,” she added.
“This is in contrast to previous studies which have found that exposure to pollution is linked to lung cancer.”
Dr Poulson said there had been a number reports that coal power plants were contributing to the air quality problems in the country.
“We think that coal-powered power plants can play a significant role in these air quality issues,” he explained.
“Coal-fired plants produce around 50% of the UK’s electricity and are a key contributor to UK air pollution.”
Their emissions are responsible for a large proportion of NOx, particulate and PM10 emissions, and have been linked to higher levels of asthma, COPD and other respiratory problems among older people.
“He added: “We believe that this finding is of great importance for public health policy, as coal power stations contribute to these air pollution problems, and are thus potentially a key part of the CO2-climate change puzzle.
“The study comes as a major new study by the National Institute for Health Research suggests air quality could be an important driver of cancer.
It found the number of people with lung cancers increased by around 8% over the last decade, but the overall number of cancers in the population remained the same.
The research, which looked at data from a number and age groups from the UK and the US, found that more than half of all cancer deaths in the US were due to CO 2 emissions.
The authors of the new study say the findings suggest that CO 2 is likely to be a driver of many cancers in later life.”
Our findings suggest CO 2 may be a potential cause of some of these cancers in