(NaturalNews) Living with a smoker or in a major city places a person at greater risk of early death than living in the radioactive exclusion zone around Chernobyl, according to a study conducted by scientists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Great Britain and published in the journal "BMC Public Health."
Researcher Jim Smith calculated the increased mortality risk of emergency workers who responded to the 1986 explosions at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine, as well as the people who continued to live in the 19-mile exclusion zone in the years following. The study group was exposed to the radiation equivalent of more than 12,000 chest x-rays.
Smith found that increased cancer rates among this group led to a 1 percent higher risk of premature death. By contrast, residents of central London were 2.8 percent more likely to die from pollution-related heart and lung disease than residents of Inverness, the United Kingdom's least polluted city. People who lived with a smoker had a 1.7 percent increase in mortality risk.
"Populations still living unofficially in the abandoned lands around Chernobyl may actually have a lower health risk for radiation than they would have if they were exposed to air pollution in a large city, such as nearby Kiev," Smith wrote.
Smith also found that survivors of the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, had an increased mortality risk "significantly lower than that caused by severe obesity or active smoking."
Approximately 16,000 people are estimated to have been killed by the radioactive plume released from the Chernobyl explosion. In contrast, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has estimated that air pollution causes 24,000 deaths in Britain each year.
Other recent studies have reinforced the dangers of air pollution. In one, women living in more polluted areas were found to have an increased risk of heart disease. In another, children living within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of roadway were found to have a lower life expectancy and higher occurrence of permanent lung damage than other children.