In this study, researchers at the University of Texas assessed outdoor air pollution from particulate matter or PM2.5, which are tiny particles in the air that come from various sources such as power plants, exhaust systems, airplanes, forest fires, and dust storms. These tiny particles linger longer in the air than heavy particles, which means that people are more likely to inhale them. Because of their minuscule size, they can get deep into the lungs and possibly enter the circulatory system.
To measure PM2.5 air pollution exposure and its consequences in 185 countries, the team used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study, which measures mortality caused by diseases, injuries, and risk factors. Then, they looked at the life expectancy of each country and the global effect.
The results revealed that air pollution cut life expectancy by an average of four months in the U.S. and the U.K. In Russia, it reduced life expectancy by nine months, cut it by one-and-a-half years in India, and nearly two years in Egypt. Overall, it shaved off about a year of global life expectancy.
In more polluted countries, the impact of air pollution on health and life is worse. An earlier study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that air pollution in China, particularly in the northern region, cuts down average lifespan by 3.1 years. This is 46 percent higher than in south China. In Northern China, residents receive free coal during winter to power their indoor heating system. However, long-term exposure to smog from the coal-powered burners has been proven dangerous to health.
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The findings of the Texas study highlights the importance of addressing air pollution. The researchers suggested that improving air quality in more polluted countries, where life expectancy is much lower, could help.
Addressing air pollution
The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) reported that a global campaign called Breathe Life, which aims to address air pollution around the world, is in the works. The campaign, which is led by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and UN Environment, puts together public health and climate change expertise with guidance on implementing solutions to air pollution. It involves 39 cities, regions, and countries, reaching more than 80 million people.
The leaders of this campaign believe that instituting policies and programs will reduce transport and energy emissions. In addition, they believe that promoting the use of clean energy in cities will change and improve the lives of many people. The use of renewable energy, which in on the rise, can potentially make a big difference. Every year, investments in new renewable sources surpass fossil fuel investments.
The latest air quality database by WHO estimates that 97 percent of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 residents do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. In high-income countries, that percentage declines to 49 percent. Still, most big cities still struggle to keep air pollution within the acceptable levels set out by WHO.
Read more news stories and studies about the damaging effects of air pollution by going to Pollution.news.