Dirty air is killing us faster -scientists now know how fast
Fine pollution particles that penetrate deep into human lungs are taking months off our lives
South Africans could add five months to their lives if air pollution was reduced.
Worldwide, according to the first global study comparing air pollution and lifespan, fine particles that penetrate deep into human lungs are robbing people of more than a year.
The worst-affected countries are Niger and Egypt, where well over a year could be added to lifespans if air pollution was brought within World Health Organisation guidelines.
A team of leading environmental engineers and public health researchers at The University of Texas at Austin studied outdoor air pollution from particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5).Breathing the particles – which come from power plants, vehicles, fires, agriculture and industrial emissions – is associated with increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and cancer.
Joshua Apte and his team in Texas used data from the 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study to measure PM2.5 air pollution exposure and its consequences in 185 countries, and published their findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.For SA, they found that pollution reduces lifespans by 0.7 years. It if was reduced within the WHO guidelines, 0.4 years would be clawed back.“The fact that fine particle air pollution is a major global killer is already well known, and we all care about how long we live,” said Apte.
“We were able to systematically identify how air pollution substantially shortens lives around the world. What we found is that air pollution has a very large effect on survival — on average about a year globally.”
This was a considerably longer period than the longer lifespan that would result from cures for lung cancer and breast cancer combined.“In countries like India and China, the benefit for elderly people of improving air quality would be especially large,” said Apte.
“For much of Asia, if air pollution were removed as a risk for death, 60-year-olds would have a 15% to 20% higher chance of living to age 85 or older.”
Apte said the findings were particularly important for the context they provided. “A body count saying 90,000 Americans or 1.1 million Indians die per year from air pollution is large but faceless,” he said.
“Saying that, on average, a population lives a year less than they would have otherwise – that is something relatable.”