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New National Study Links Pollution to Higher Death Rates for the Elderly

Aired June 29, 2000 - 2:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Tiny pollution particles from power plants and auto emissions are linked to higher death rates for the elderly. That is the conclusion of a new national study paid for by the EPA and the auto industry.

We get more on it from CNN's David George.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GEORGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Researchers with the Health Effects Institute in Massachusetts studied the air in America's 90 largest cities for over seven years. They found that only a tiny rise in pollution was enough to hike the death rate among old people by one percent, not a huge increase, but...

DAN GREENBAUM, HEALTH EFFECTS INSTITUTE: When you apply that across the whole nation, to over 250 million people, then you are talking about a substantial increase over time in deaths related to something that we can prevent, that is air pollution.

GEORGE: The scientists studied pollution from vehicles, smokestacks, construction sites, even road dust, and concluded that a pollution increase of only 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air was enough to cause potentially fatal health problems in the elderly.

(on camera): A cubic meter of air would fill a box about this wide and this high and just about as deep. Now, as far as that 20 micrograms of pollution that the report mentions, think of it this way: take one of these pieces of candy; it weighs about one gram. Chop this piece of candy up into a million microscopic pieces, take 20 of those million pieces on your finger, flick out into that box of air in front of us. That's all the extra pollution those scientists are talking about.

(voice-over): Later this year, the Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the EPA's authority to impose air pollution standards, which industry says are too strict.

The American Lung Association says there are hundreds of studies confirming the impact pollution has on health, but more study is needed to determine just how and why air pollution causes some people to get sick and others to die. RONALD WHITE, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION: We certainly have some leads as to how these particles are causing these effects, but we don't have the exact mechanism identified by the science just yet.

GEORGE: The Massachusetts researchers also caution that their study won't answer whether there's any level of air pollution that is safe for the elderly.

David George, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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