Recent studies have indicated that reducing particulate pollution would substantially reduce average daily mortality rates, prolonging lives, especially among the elderly (age ≥ 75). These benefits are projected by statistical models of significant positive associations between levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels and daily mortality rates. We examine the empirical correspondence between changes in average PM2.5 levels and temperatures from 1999 to 2000, and corresponding changes in average daily mortality rates, in each of 100 U.S. cities in the National Mortality and Morbidity Air Pollution Study (NMMAPS) data base, which has extensive PM2.5, temperature, and mortality data for those 2 years. Increases in average daily temperatures appear to significantly reduce average daily mortality rates, as expected from previous research. Unexpectedly, reductions in PM2.5 do not appear to cause any reductions in mortality rates. PM2.5 and mortality rates are both elevated on cold winter days, creating a significant positive statistical relation between their levels, but we find no evidence that reductions in PM2.5 concentrations cause reductions in mortality rates. For all concerned, it is crucial to use causal relations, rather than statistical associations, to project the changes in human health risks due to interventions such as reductions in particulate air pollution.
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