Less sulphur - major gains

Published: Saturday 15 March 2003

-- (Credit: Reuters)we still have some hopes. A new study indicates that a decrease in the sulphur content of fuels has major health gains for the community. Pollution by particulate matter is considered to be of prime importance in damaging health. The study is the first to show that reduction in levels of pollutants like sulphur dioxide has a direct affect on death rates.

The study was conducted by Hong Kong's department of community medicine, the University of Hong Kong and St George's Hospital Medical School, the uk. Its conclusions are based on observations of death rates after the introduction of a regulation on July 1, 1990. The law mandated that the sulphur content of fuel should not be more than 0.5 per cent of the total weight.

Using advanced statistical modelling to exclude extraneous factors, the researchers found that a 53 per cent reduction in this single source of pollution was followed six months later by a large reduction in winter deaths and a long-term fall in mortality from all possible reasons. The biggest benefits included reduced mortality from chest problems in older people. C M Wong, the lead researcher, says that as a result of the intervention, about 3,000 deaths were avoided over a period of five years.

Types of diseases Changes in mortality (in per cent)
Pre-intervention* Post-intervention*
Respiratory 8.55 1.88
Heart 2.79 0.77
Lung cancer 3.12 1.83
Others 3.5 1.20
*Before and after the introduction of low sulphur content fuel in Hong Kong in 1990
Source: The Lancet, vol 360, November 23, 2002, p1650.

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