Air pollution deaths double AFP, Paris

Manan Vatsyayana—AFP

People living in Britain have one and a half years slashed from their life expectancy due to air pollution, warns new research.

Using a new method of modelling the effects of various sources of outdoor air pollution on death rates, the researchers found that it caused an estimated 8.8 million extra deaths globally rather than the previously estimated 4.5 million, according to the study which appeared in the European Health Journal. "Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not", Thomas Münzel, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University and study author, in a news release.

"In Europe alone, the excess number of deaths is almost 800,000 a year, and each of these deaths represents an average reduction in life expectancy of more than two years", Münzel added.

Of these deaths, between 40-80% were due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD), such as heart attacks and stroke.

The researchers used a model to simulate atmospheric chemical processes and "interactions with the hand, oceans and biosphere", according to the study, to determine the global exposure of the population to air pollution in the year 2015.

Average life expectancy was reduced by 1.5 years among people in the United Kingdom dying as a result of air pollution, according to the study.

"Since most particulate matter and other air pollutants in Europe come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to urgently switch to other sources for generating energy", said Lelieveld.

The complex study involved computer simulations of interacting natural and man-made chemicals combined with new information about population density, disease risk factors, and causes of death.

Even steeper rates of excess death in eastern Europe - over 200 per year per 100,000 people, for example, in Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania - were attributed to less advanced health care.

Professor Münzel is calling on the European Union cut the annual limit of tiny particulate matter in the air from 25 millionths of a gram per cubic metre to 10, which is the level set by the World Health Organisation.

"In Europe the maximum permissible value ... is much too high", said Lelieveld and co-author Prof.

Findings for non-European countries will be published separately, he said.

At the country-level, researchers said mortality rates (excess deaths per 100,000 people) associated with air pollution was 154 in Germany, 136 in Italy, 150 in Poland, 98 in the United Kingdom and 105 in France.

"Many other countries, such as Canada, the U.S. and Australia, use the World Health Organization guideline", said Prof Munzel. It causes damage to the blood vessels through increased oxidative stress, which then leads to increases in blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure. "While much of the push for a rapid shift to clean, renewable energy economy rightfully focuses on climate change, we should also remember that moving to wind, solar and geothermal systems will also eliminate all the fossil fuel-emitted air pollution that is cutting many thousands of lives short every day", Edwards added. The scientists, however, were candid to admit that there could be statistical uncertainty surrounding the estimates and this may exaggerate or downplay the effect of air pollution on deaths.

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