September 18 | 2017

Estimated Changes in Life Expectancy and Adult Mortality Resulting from Declining PM2.5 Exposures in the Contiguous United States: 1980–2010

Neal Fann, Sun-Young Kim, Casey Olives, and Lianne Sheppard.

Environ Health Perspect. 2017; Vol 125, Issue 9.


Background: PM2.5 precursor emissions have declined over the course of several decades, following the implementation of local, state, and federal air quality policies. Estimating the corresponding change in population exposure and PM2.5-attributable risk of death prior to the year 2000 is made difficult by the lack of PM2.5 monitoring data.

Objectives: We used a new technique to estimate historical PM2.5 concentrations, and estimated the effects of changes in PM2.5 population exposures on mortality in adults (age ≥30 y), and on life expectancy at birth, in the contiguous United States during 1980–2010.

Methods: We estimated annual mean county-level PM2.5 concentrations in 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 using universal kriging incorporating geographic variables. County-level death rates and national life tables for each year were obtained from the U.S. Census and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We used log-linear and nonlinear concentration–response coefficients from previous studies to estimate changes in the numbers of deaths and in life years and life expectancy at birth, attributable to changes in PM2.5.

Results: Between 1980 and 2010, population-weighted PM2.5 exposures fell by about half, and the estimated number of excess deaths declined by about a third. The States of California, Virginia, New Jersey, and Georgia had some of the largest estimated reductions in PM2.5-attributable deaths. Relative to a counterfactual population with exposures held constant at 1980 levels, we estimated that people born in 2050 would experience an ∼1-y increase in life expectancy at birth, and that there would be a cumulative gain of 4.4 million life years among adults ≥30 y of age.

Conclusions: Our estimates suggest that declines in PM2.5 exposures between 1980 and 2010 have benefitted public health.