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Today’s missing fact

April 2, 2012

Studded tires are always a hot topic in Sweden: some people consider them essential for safe driving in winter, whereas others fear the asphalt particles torn loose when studded tires are used on non-snowy streets and roads. The latter crowd recieved support today from the University of Umeå, where professor of Environmental Medicine Bertil Forsberg (and coworkers) have found that on days with high particle levels, more people die.

And of course the journalists reporting on the study have to claim that the studded tires directly kill people. Um, we don’t know that. Today’s missing fact is: who died? Was it otherwise healthy children, young people or middle-aged people? If so, it would be reasonable to say that the particles killed them. They wouldn’t otherwise have died. My suspicion, however, is that those excess dead are people who would have died within days or weeks anyway. Old, frail people with respiratory problems. In that case, an overabundance of asphalt particles might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but I don’t think it would be fair to say that studded tires killed them.

Of course, no newspaper has published this data. It’s quite possible that the researchers themselves don’t know; that all they have done so far is a preliminary comparison of air quality versus number of deaths. In that case, I hope this study will be followed by a more detailed investigation: what kinds of deaths are linked to particle levels and what kinds are not?

Too bad that by the time such a study finishes, today’s newspaper panic will be quite forgotten…

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From → Nothing else fit

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