June 13-20, 2005

Dirty air to cost Ontario $1B in health care, lost productivity: OMA

Air pollution in Ontario will result in almost 5,800 premature deaths this year and cost the province almost $1 billion in health care and lost productivity, says the Ontario Medical Association (OMA). Its Illness Cost of Air Pollution 2005 (ICAP) report further indicates that if air quality in the province does not improve, the number of premature deaths associated with air pollution will climb to an estimated 10,000 lives by 2026, with the combined healthcare and lost productivity costs rising to well over $1 billion.

"The impact polluted air is having on the health of Ontarians is dramatically worse than we had initially estimated," said OMA president Dr Greg Flynn. "We are paying the price for poor air quality with our lives and if we don't take action immediately, the cost will continue to rise significantly."

The OMA estimates that in 2005, approximately 17,000 Ontarians will be admitted to hospitals with health problems related to air pollution exposure. That number is expected to jump to over 24,000 by 2026. The number of emergency room visits for 2005 is estimated at almost 60,000, rising to about 88,000 by 2026.

"Our estimates are actually quite conservative and still very shocking when we see the harmful impact air pollution has on Ontario," said Dr Ted Boadway, the OMA's executive director of health policy. "This is about saving lives and improving the quality of life across this province."

The revised estimate of 5,800 lives lost is considerably higher than the 1,900 estimated in 2000. The OMA attributes this to important progress in the ability to measure the health effects of air pollution accumulated over a lifetime. As a result, the ICAP model has produced a more accurate estimate.

"If we do nothing to tackle air pollution in Ontario, it is going to cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives," said Flynn. "The cost of inaction is clearly much higher than any price our province could pay to improve air quality."

The OMA will soon be releasing data for individual cities in Ontario. This, it says, will help municipal governments understand the importance of taking action to improve air quality and reduce air pollution.

The ICAP (Illness Costs of Air Pollution) software model was first developed by the OMA in 2000 to estimate the health effects and economic costs of smog in Ontario. While it has been known for decades that smog can kill, detailed health and economic data are required as a basis for policy determinations. As advocates for healthier air, the OMA sought to counter claims that reducing smog would cost too much by quantifying the cost of smog's health burden.

The model applies health risk coefficients from recent epidemiological health studies to Ontario population statistics, air pollution data and economic information. It is capable of estimating impacts for three age classes, six pollutants and a wide range of health effects.

Since 2000, the model inputs have been updated and new features added. The most significant change is the addition of estimates of the cumulative effect that air pollution has throughout an individual's lifetime. This data on premature mortality due to chronic smog-related illness significantly increases total smog-related deaths.

The report may be viewed on the OMA Web site, www.oma.org.

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