I have just returned from the 38th Aspen Lung Conference. This year’s topic was the environment and the lung. The lung is by far the largest organ of the body which is in constant and intimate contact with the environment for the obvious reasons of the need to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. We take in more air by weight than food or water each day.
The conference brought experts from Australia, Colombia, Europe, Israel, North America, and South Africa together. Some were scientists including epidemiologists and cell biologists. Others were clinician teachers and clinical researchers. I felt sorry that no attendees came from China, India, Mexico, or Russia, where air pollution and working conditions are much worse than in our part of the world.
The major messages focused on how the lung responds to hostile inhalants and how exquisitely it has evolved in order to protect itself and its owner, i.e., the patient, from injury and death.
Environmental toxins found in industry and in our air and how they affect the lung and sometimes cause disease received abundant emphasis. But the most hostile environmental pollutant is tobacco smoke, which kills 450,000 Americans each year. Isn’t it a paradox that more Colombians die of American tobacco (smoke) than American die of Colombian cocaine!
I’ll be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD