Air pollution robs you of 2 years of life, more than smoking or alcohol

Smoke hangs over the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge in San Francisco, California, U.S., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Strong, dry winds are sweeping through northern California for a third day, raising the risk of wildfires of forest in an area that has been battered by heat waves, freak thunderstorms and dangerously poor air quality from the fires.

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Air pollution, which results mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, reduces the global life expectancy of each person by 2.2 years, according to a new report published on Tuesday by the University of Chicago Energy Policy Institute (EPIC).

The Air Quality Index, or AQLI, reveals that, taken together, air pollution takes a collective lifespan of 17 billion years, and reducing air pollution for meeting international health guidelines would increase the global average life expectancy by approximately 72 to 74.2 years.

Life expectancy of air pollution compared to other more well-known causes of damage to human health, such as smoking and terrorism.

Graphic courtesy of the University of Chicago Energy Policy Institute (EPIC).

According to the report, direct cigarette smoke reduces life expectancy by an average of 1.9 years. Alcohol and drug use reduce life expectancy by an average of nine months, unsafe water and sanitation reduce life expectancy by seven months, HIV and AIDS reduce life expectancy by four months, malaria reduces the average lifespan by three months, and conflict and terrorism reduce life expectancy by seven months, according to the report.

The AQLI report is notable because its estimate of the impact of particulate pollution on human life expectancy is based on research that allows it to show causation, not just correlation. “Because of the way these studies were designed – and the rather fortuitous set of policies that enabled this design, they established a causalrather than a correlative relationship, between exposure to fine particles and mortality, ” Christa Hasenkopfthe director of AQLI, told CNBC.

Air pollution is so dangerous because it is impossible to avoid, especially for people who live in particularly polluted places, the report says. “While it is possible to quit smoking or take precautions against illness, everyone needs to breathe air. So air pollution affects many more people than any of these other conditions,” the report said.

Sixty percent of particulate air pollution is caused by burning fossil fuels18% comes from natural sources (including dust, sea salt and forest fires) and 22% comes from other human activities.

The report, compiled by the University of Chicago Michael Greenstone and his team at EPIC, is a measure of air pollution in 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic reduced activity and transport.

The massive contraction in activity has reduced global pollution levels very little. The population-weighted average particulate matter fell from 27.7 micrograms (one millionth of a gram) per cubic meter of air to 27.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air between 2019 and 2020, according to the report.

And in South Asia, where air pollution is most severe, air pollution increased in 2020 compared to the previous year. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are among the most polluted countries in the world.

Particulate air pollution is airborne and classified by size. The smaller it is, the deeper it can penetrate the body. Particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, often referred to as PM10, can pass through the hairs of the nose, into the airways and into the lungs.

Smaller particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, often referred to as PM2.5, are about 3% of the diameter of a human hair and can enter the bloodstream through the alveoli of the lungs. It can affect blood flow, eventually causing stroke, heart attack, and other health issues.

More than 97% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds current World Health Organization recommendations.

Graphic courtesy of the University of Chicago Energy Policy Institute (EPIC).

When the World Health Organization first issued air quality guidelines in 2005, it said acceptable levels of air pollution were below 10 micrograms per cubic meter. In September, the World Health Organization changed its reference guidelines to less than 5 micrograms per cubic meter.

Currently, 97.3% of the world’s population, or 7.4 billion people, live in places where the air quality does not exceed the WHO recommended limit of 5 micrograms per cubic meter for particulate matter. with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers.

“This report reaffirms that particulate pollution is the greatest threat to global health,” wrote Greenstone, who was formerly the chief economist for former President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “Yet we also see an opportunity for progress. Air pollution is a winnable challenge. It just requires effective policies.”

Buildings are shrouded in smog in Beijing, China February 26, 2014.

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For example, China has been able to significantly improve its air quality. In 2014, after a year in which China saw record levels of pollution, then-Premier Li Keqiang declared a “war on pollution”. The government spent money on pollution control and was able to reduce particulate pollution by 39.6%, the report said.

Despite China’s progress, air pollution levels in China are still higher than the WHO recommends.

“It is important to note that air pollution is also deeply linked to climate change. Both challenges are primarily caused by the same culprit: fossil fuel emissions from power plants, vehicles and other industrial sources. “, reads the summary of the report. “These challenges also present a rare win-win opportunity, as policy can simultaneously reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which will allow people to live longer and healthier lives and reduce the costs of climate change.”

The American Medical Associationthe nation’s largest medical professional group, voted on Monday to adopt a policy to declare climate change a public health crisis.

“The scientific evidence is clear – our patients are already facing adverse health effects associated with climate change, heat-related injuries, vector-borne diseases and air pollution from wildfires, to worsening seasonal allergies and storm-related illnesses and injuries. Like the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis will have a disproportionate impact on the health of historically marginalized communities,” said Council Member Ilse R. Levin. Board of WADA, in a written statement announcing the vote. “Acting now will not reverse all the damage done, but it will help prevent further damage to our planet and the health and well-being of our patients.

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