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New Study Connects Air Pollution to Increased Death Rates in Latin American Cities

Smog over a city in Chile

March 12, 2024

A newly published study from the SALURBAL group finds that increases in fine particulate air pollution (also called PM2.5) were associated with increases in death from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in adults in 337 cities across nine countries in Latin America. Although the health effects of air pollution are well known, this is one of the first studies to focus on Latin American cities, which have relatively high levels of air pollution and few policies to control it.

Dr. Nelson Gouveia of the Universidade de São Paulo led this study, which looked at mortality data from people aged 20 and older and monthly PM2.5 levels between the years 2009 and 2015. The association between air pollution and risk of death from cardiovascular and respiratory disease was stronger with age. Adults aged 60 and older and males in this age group experienced the highest risk.

Latin America’s urban areas are growing, and residents are exposed to high levels of air pollution as a result. This study provided some of the first evidence of the health impacts of PM2.5 in these cities, which can contribute to effective civic engagement and policymaking to protect the health of residents and decrease air pollution.

“Ambient air pollution is among the exposures with the greatest health burden for the populations of Latin America, where most cities do not have public policies to control it and the population is largely unaware of the health risks resulting from this exposure,” says Dr. Gouveia. “Thus, this study, the largest carried out to date in the region, is generating evidence that can help drive actions and awareness.”

The study, “Short-term associations between fine particulate air pollution and cardiovascular and respiratory mortality in 337 cities in Latin America” was published in the April 10 issue of the journal Science of The Total Environment. The SALURBAL team studies the ways urban environments and urban policies impact the health of city residents throughout Latin America. Project findings inform policies and interventions to create healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable cities worldwide.

The Urban Health in Latin America (SALURBAL) project studies how urban policies and the environment affect the health of residents of Latin American cities. The results of this project serve as a reference to inform future policies and interventions to make cities healthier, more equitable and sustainable throughout the world. SALURBAL is funded by the Wellcome Trust. To learn more, visit SALURBAL and the SALURBAL Data Portal.