Emissions offer ‘pandemic’ level health problems — study

Source: By Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Air pollution shaves an average of almost three years off human life expectancy, a worldwide toll steeper than those stemming from smoking, war and other familiar perils, an international team of researchers concluded in a new study.

The study, published online this week in the journal Cardiovascular Research, also estimates that exposure to dirty air led to 8.8 million premature deaths in 2015. That figure is considerably higher than similar projections by groups like the World Health Organization and the Boston-based Health Effects Institute (Greenwire, April 3, 2019).

The authors, based at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany and other institutions, rely in part on new models that they say reduce uncertainty about the effects of exposure to ozone and fine particles.

The paper distinguishes between desert dust and other “natural” sources of air pollution and emissions from human activities. About two-thirds of pollution stems from the latter set of sources; thus, about 5.5 million deaths worldwide are potentially avoidable, according to the authors.

“Since the impact of air pollution on public health overall is much larger than expected, and is a worldwide phenomenon, we believe our results show there is an ‘air pollution pandemic,'” professor Thomas Muenzel of the University Medical Center Mainz, also in Germany, said in a statement.

Air pollution’s effects also vary sharply by country and region. In the United States, the average “loss of life expectancy” was 1.6 years; in China, the comparable number was 4.1 years.