Air pollution kills 5.5 million globally each year, new research shows

New research led by the University of British Columbia has found that more than 5.5 million people die prematurely each year due to household and outdoor air pollution.

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And, more than half of those deaths occur in India and China -- two of the world’s fastest growing economies.

The research was presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

For the meeting, researchers from Canada, the United States, China and India analyzed air pollution levels and calculated the impact on health.

The data found that there are several contributing factors to air pollution including power plants, industrial manufacturing, vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood. These practices and industries release into the air small particles that are dangerous to a person’s health.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for the majority of deaths from air pollution, which is also linked to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and respiratory infections.

The study led researchers to reach a dire conclusion: Unless more aggressive targets to lower future emissions are met, the number of premature deaths due to air pollution will increase over the next 20 years.

“Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease,” said University of British Columbia professor Michael Brauer in a statement. “Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.”

In 2015, world leaders adopted the first global pact to fight climate change, which included calling on nations to cut and eliminate greenhouse gas pollution.

Air pollution in India, China

The study found that in 2013, approximately 1.6 million people died of air pollution in China and 1.4 million died in India.

At this time of year, Beijing and New Delhi see daily air pollution levels that are at or above 300 micrograms per cubic metre, which is 1,200 per cent higher than the World Health guidelines for daily particulate matter.

In China, burning coal was the biggest contributor to poor air quality, with data showing that outdoor air pollution from coal alone caused an estimated 366,000 deaths in 2013. Unless more ambitious emissions targets are met, air pollution will cause anywhere from 990,000 to 1.3 million premature deaths in 2030, said Qiao Ma, an environmental PhD student at Tsinghua in Beijing.

“Our study highlights the urgent need for even more aggressive strategies to reduce emissions from coal and from other sectors,” Ma said in the statement.

In India, a main contributor to poor air quality was the practice of burning wood, dung and “similar sources of biomass” for cooking and heating. Millions of families in India are “regularly exposed” to high levels of particulate matter in their own homes, researchers found.


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