Published on 7 December 2018
As local, federal, and international policies targeting the quality of the air we breathe continue to evolve, questions arise of how effective existing policies have been in improving human health. For example, how many lives have been saved by tough air pollution policies? How many illnesses have been caused by lax policies?
NASA recently initiated two projects to provide some answers drawing on its scientific expertise and global observations of air pollution from spacecraft orbiting Earth. It is information air quality managers say they need to refine current policies and develop effective new ones.
One project demonstrated that improvements in air quality in the United States between 1990 and 2010 reduced deaths from air pollution by nearly half. The other project, taking a global view of asthma, found that high levels of air pollution caused millions of emergency room visits annually.
The study of asthma impacts caused by air pollution used data on several pollutants including ozone. Shown here are annual average ozone concentrations from 2015; red indicates high concentrations, blue indicates lower levels. Credits: Environmental Health Perspectives
Both projects are part of NASA’s ongoing efforts to help air quality managers and policymakers solve clean air problems using NASA data and products. These quick-turnaround, high-priority projects are funded by the agency’s Earth Science Division drawing on expertise in its Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team.
The project that focused on U.S. air quality improvements used a 21-year computer simulation to estimate air pollutant concentrations, combining that with county population and baseline mortality rates. The findings showed that pollution-related deaths from heart disease, pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and stroke declined as a result of air quality improvements.