2010 March 2: CA San Francisco: Study points to high cost of polluted air
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
CA Air Resources Board / Courtesy to The Chronicle
Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, says the study shows how controlling particulates and ozone levels is crucial for both economic and health reasons.
The pollution is jacking up health care costs, insurance premiums and jeopardizing the health of children, who suffer more from asthma attacks in smoggy areas, said researchers with the Santa Monica nonprofit policy research institute.
"It shows that the major stakeholders in the California health care system are paying millions and millions of dollars due to the failure to meet federal clean air standards," said John Romley, lead author of the study and an economist at Rand. "Folks in the Bay Area are paying for medical care in their taxes for hospital care for people around the state."
The study, "The Impact of Air Quality on Hospital Spending," documented 29,808 emergency room visits and hospital admissions in the state for problems related to air pollution from 2005 through 2007.
The medical care provided during those visits, which involved everything from asthma to pneumonia, cost $193 million, about two-thirds of which was paid for by Medicare and Medi-Cal, according to the report.
Previous studies have documented California’s failure to meet federal clean air standards, especially in the Los Angeles basin and the San Joaquin Valley. This study, Romley said, is the first to quantify the medical cost and show how California’s dirty air is driving up the price of both government and private insurance.
Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said the study illustrates how controlling particulates and ozone levels is necessary for both economic and health reasons.
"The people who espouse the idea that we should stop working on anything involving regulations of fuel because doing so would cost money should think about the cost of not doing anything," said Nichols, whose attempts to establish a low-carbon fuel standard for California are being opposed by oil and trucking industry officials. "The fact that we’re paying for all these hospital and emergency room visits is sobering."
The Rand researchers analyzed treatment at more than 400 hospitals around the state for conditions known from epidemiological studies to be linked to air pollution. The study found that nearly three-quarters of the health problems that were analyzed were triggered by high levels of fine particulate pollution – tiny pieces of soot lodged in lungs. Those in the other one-quarter were the result of breathing ozone, the primary ingredient in smog, which is created by the noxious fumes from automobiles and factories.
Teenagers and children under 17 were some of the worst sufferers, with more than 12,000 emergency room visits for asthma during the three-year study period. Acute bronchitis, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were the most expensive conditions, accounting for nearly one-third of health care costs. Some 68 percent of the people treated were on public health insurance plans.
Pollution-related hospital visits were not a big issue in the Bay Area, but Romley said residents are paying taxes for problems in places like the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles basin, which had the worst smog and the highest costs.
Jaime Holt, the spokeswoman for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said most of the foul air was imported.
"The amount of pollution that we produce is significantly lower than the amount of pollution produced in Los Angeles and in the Bay Area," Holt said. "About 80 percent of our pollution comes from trucks, cars and other mobile sources. We’ve got I-5 and Highway 99 here in the valley, and some pollution drifts over from the Bay Area."
The Sacramento Valley generated its fair share of medical costs, according to the study, with 182 emergency room visits to the UC Davis Medical Center costing $1.9 million.
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