Doctor says Utah's air pollution leading to premature death of thousands

Doctor says Utah's air pollution leading to premature death of thousands

(KUTV) New research from a study at the University of British Columbia suggests air pollution is the fourth leading cause of death globally, leading to 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide each year.

The study included researchers from China, India, Canada, and the U.S. and shows more than half the deaths occur in China and India, but local health professionals in sat Utahns are absolutely being impacted.

"We can very credibly estimate that somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 Utahns die prematurely every year due to the air pollution," said Dr. Brian Moench with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "If I were to tell you the Ebola virus was killing 1,000 to 2,000 Utahns every year, there would be panic in the streets."

While research shows the elderly, the young and the sick are most at risk, Moench says we're all in harm's way if we're breathing-in Utah air during inversion periods where pollution is trapped in the Salt Lake Valley.

"One of the things people need to know is that the biologic response to the air pollution does not dissipate when the air clears up," says Moench.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment say the Utah Department of Environmental Quality is falling short when it comes to advising Utahns of the health risks associated with air pollution, specifically the numbers they use to advise schools on kids being outside for recess.

"I wouldn't let the kids go outside. I wouldn't, unless they're wearing masks," said Tim Wagner, Executive Director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, who suggests kids should be inside when the PM2.5 level is over 40. "The lungs of these little kids are still forming and exposure to this stuff is dangerous."

There are currently more than a dozen bills being debated on Utah's Capitol Hill, dealing with bad air. Wagner says it will take more public outcry to get lawmakers on board.

"Unfortunately, like so many years, we see those champions are highly outnumbered by the folks that have a little tighter allegiance to big business," he said.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is holding a free seminar Tuesday night on the BYU campus. They'll be discussing air pollution and the impacts on pregnancy at 7pm in the Joseph F. Smith building.

Follow Chris Miller on Twitter @ChrisMillerKUTV for breaking news, updates and more.

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