Thousands of Deaths Linked to Weak US Air Pollution Rules

Military service comes with life-threatening risks, but a study published in November 2019 shows that tens of thousands of veterans are dying from an invisible danger: air pollution in the U.S. The researchers concluded that the EPA standards for air quality are not adequate to protect Americans from death caused by air pollution, and their study of the medical records of more than 4.5 million veterans found that many deaths caused by air pollution involve veterans. Nine causes of death were associated with a type of invisible dust in the air called particulate matter: 

  1. cardiovascular disease, 
  2. stroke
  3. chronic kidney disease
  4. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  5. dementia
  6. type 2 diabetes
  7. hypertension
  8. lung cancer
  9. pneuomnia

The researchers found that deaths were especially likely among black individuals and individuals living in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. 

The research was published in JAMA Network Open [1] and it includes maps showing the likely age of death due to specific causes associated with air pollution in the different States in the U.S. See the maps below.  Individuals in the States that are colored green generally die less often from the specific condition, compared to the U.S. overall. The darker the green, the fewer people are dying from air pollution.  The redder the color of the state, the more people die from these conditions.


Map A shows the age specific death rate for cardiovascular disease, Map B for chronic kidney disease, Map C for dementia, Map D for hypertension and Map F for pneumonia.

The study results show that racial and socioeconomic disparities heavily contribute to the percentages of deaths that seem to be caused by air pollution. Overall, the impact of air pollution is more harmful for people who are less affluent, apparently because they tend to live in areas with more highways, factories, and other causes of pollution.[2]

The EPA standards for air pollution are 12 micrograms per cubic meter, but the study found that pollution that is lower than that standard can cause death. [1] In addition, the regulations for air pollution are not well enforced.  

Lives would be saved, especially in the states that are red on the map, if the EPA creates higher standards regarding the amount of pollution allowed in our air, and enforces the current standards as well as new, more stringent standards.

To see New York Times’ visual representation of fine particulate matter floating in the sky in cities around the world and where you live, click here. [3]


[1] Bowe, Benjamin, et al. “Mortality Associated With PM2.5 Air Pollution in the United States.” JAMA Network Open, American Medical Association, 20 Nov. 2019,

[2] United Nations, “Air Pollution Hurts the Poorest Most.” UN Environment Programme, 3 Dec. 2019,

[3] Popovich, Nadja, et al. “See How the World’s Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City’s.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Dec. 2019,