Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (SPH), Trinity College, and the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin, Ireland, examined the effect of a 1990 ban on coal sales and coal burning in Dublin on death rates in the city for six years before and after the ban was implemented. The study found that black smoke concentrations and nontrauma death rates were substantially reduced. The findings appear in the Oct. 19. issue of The Lancet.
As a result of the coal ban, the researchers found that during the six years after the ban the average black smoke concentrations in Dublin declined by 70 percent when compared with the six years before the ban. The reduction in black smoke was also associated with a nearly 6 percent reduction in nontrauma-related death. Further, death from respiratory causes decreased by 15.5 percent and for cardiovascular causes the rate decreased by 10.3 percent. This translates to an estimated 116 fewer respiratory deaths and 243 fewer cardiovascular deaths per year in Dublin after the ban.
In the 1980s, Dublin’s air quality suffered as people switched from oil to cheaper and more available coal for home and water heating. On Sept. 1, 1990, the Irish Government banned the sale and distribution of bituminous coals within the city of Dublin. This offered the researchers a unique opportunity to assess the effects of particulate pollution on mortality and the general population. Douglas Dockery, study co-author and professor of environmental epidemiology at SPH, said about the study findings, “The results could not be more clear: Reducing particulate air pollution reduces the number of respiratory and cardiovascular-related deaths immediately.”