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Polluted air cuts global life expectancy by two years

Commuters make their way across a busy road in heavy smog conditions in New Delhi

Commuters make their way across a busy road in heavy smog conditions in New Delhi.

Microscopic air pollution, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is shortening lives worldwide by more than two years, researchers reported Tuesday.

Across South Asia, the average person would live five years longer if particulate matter levels met World Health Organization standards, according to a report from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.

In the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, home to 300 million people, crippling lung and heart diseases caused by so-called PM2.5 pollution are shortening life expectancy by eight years, and in the capital New Delhi by ten years.

PM2.5 pollution – 2.5 microns or less, about the diameter of a human hair – penetrates deep into the lungs and enters the bloodstream.

In 2013, the United Nations classified it as a carcinogen.

The WHO says the PM2.5 density in the air should not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter in a 24-hour period, or 5 mcg/m3 averaged over a whole year.

Faced with mounting evidence of adverse health effects, the WHO tightened these standards last year, the first change since the adoption of air quality guidelines in 2005.

“Clean air pays for itself in extra years of life for people around the world,” lead researchers Crista Hasenkopf and colleagues said in the Air Quality Life Index report.

“Permanently reducing global air pollution to meet WHO guidelines would increase average life expectancy by 2.2 years.”

Big gains in China

Nearly all populated regions in the world exceed WHO guidelines, but nowhere more than in Asia: by a factor of 15 in Bangladesh, a factor of 10 in India and a factor of nine in Nepal and Pakistan.

Central and West Africa, along with much of Southeast Asia and parts of Central America, also experience pollution levels — and shorter lives — far above the global average.

Surprisingly, 2020 PM2.5 pollution, the most recent data available, was virtually unchanged from the previous year, despite a sharp slowdown in the global economy and a corresponding drop in CO2 emissions due to COVID-lockdowns.

“In South Asia, pollution actually increased during the first year of the pandemic,” the authors noted.

One country that has seen great improvements is China.

PM2.5 pollution in the country of 1.4 billion people fell by almost 40 percent between 2013 and 2020, increasing life expectancy by two years.

But even with these advances, lives in China today are shortened by an average of 2.6 years.

The worst affected provinces are Henan and Hebei, in north central China, and the coastal province of Shandong.

Compared to other causes of premature death, the impact of PM2.5 pollution is comparable to tobacco smoking, more than three times that of alcohol consumption and six times that of HIV/AIDS, the report said.

New data shows strong air pollution policies extend life expectancy

© 2022 AFP

Quote: Polluted air shortens global life expectancy by two years (2022, June 14) retrieved June 14, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-polluted-air-global-life-years.html

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