(NaturalNews) Particulate pollution from the burning of fossil fuels kills 24,000 people per year in California, according to the newest figures from the California Air Resources Board. This is nearly three times higher than the 8,200 people previously believed by the state to die each year.
"Our report concludes these particles are 70 percent more dangerous than previously thought, based on several major studies that have occurred in the last five years," said the board's chief researcher, Bart Croes.
Airborne particulate matter consists of microscopic particles that cause damage deep in the lungs. California already has the lowest allowed threshold in the world for the pollutants, but researchers say that there are no safe levels.
State researchers reviewed several large studies, including one conducted by the University of Southern California, on 23,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area, and one conducted by the American Cancer Society on 300,000 people across the United States. They found that exposure to even very small levels of fine particulate exponentially increased people's risks of heart attacks, strokes and other diseases. Exposure to high levels reduced the life of the average Californian by 10 years.
"These numbers are shocking; they're incredible," said Tim Carmichael, senior policy director of the California nonprofit Coalition for Clean Air.
While it is not possible to attribute any individual death to particulate pollution, which instead raises the risk of death from other diseases, the Air Resources Board emphasized that a clear pattern emerges of increased risk with increased exposure. Even temporary decreases in exposure, the researchers found, drastically cut death rates.
"When Dublin imposed a coal ban, when Hong Kong imposed reductions in sulfur dioxide, when there was a steel mill strike in Utah ... they saw immediate reductions in deaths," Croes said.
"There's no death certificate that says specifically someone died of air pollution, but cities with higher rates of air pollution have much greater rates of death from cardiovascular diseases," he said.