air pollution

Air pollution isn't good for any of us, but it's especially bad for children and babies. So bad in fact, that economists Michael Greenstone and Kenneth Chay set out to study the correlation between infant mortality and air quality. Their paper, "Air Quality, Infant Mortality, and the Clean Air Act of 1970" compared the reduction of total suspended particulates (TSPs) with changes in infant mortality in parts of the United States. Because the TSP count fell more in some U.S. counties than in others, the researchers were able to use the difference as a variable, and draw a connection between infant health and particulate matter. They found that 1,300 fewer American infants died in 1972 than if the Clean Air Act had not existed -- a change that worked out to a 0.5 percent decline in infant mortality per 1 percent decline in TSPs. The Economist wanted to see if the global recession -- and the likely drop in urban air pollution -- has had a similar effect on infant mortality.

Air pollution's affect on your lungs is pretty obvious. Go out running on a Code Purple air quality day and you'll come home thirsty, coughing and tired (so please don't). Air pollution, especially particulate matter, also messes with your heart, affecting its electrical system and potentially causing or exacerbating heart disease. But it turns out air pollution might have even subtler -- and more disturbing -- ways of upending your health. Building off observations that the tissue and blood of lung cancer patients sometimes shows altered gene programming as a result of a chemical transformation called methylation, researchers out of the University of Milan did an experiment of their own. They found that certain particulates cause the reprogramming of genes -- changes that can lead to the development of cancer and other diseases. According to ScienceDaily, researchers took blood DNA samples from 63 healthy foundry workers near Milan, Italy, at the beginning of the work week.