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Air pollution continues to pose a serious threat to consumers' health worldwide

Researchers say the problem has reached ‘pandemic’ levels

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Photo (c) georgeclerk - Getty Images
It’s no secret that air pollution can greatly affect consumers’ health, but researchers from the European Society of Cardiology are declaring that the issue has reached pandemic levels. 

According to their work, air pollution takes more lives worldwide than smoking, violence, or insect-borne diseases. 

“Since the impact of air pollution on public health overall is much larger than expected, and is a worldwide phenomenon, we believe our results show there is an ‘air pollution pandemic,’” said researcher Thomas Münzel. “Policymakers and the medical community should be paying much more attention to this. Both air pollution and smoking are preventable, but over the past decades much less attention has been paid to air pollution than to smoking, especially among cardiologists.” 

Global risks

Using data from the Global Burden of Disease project and a new model that can track air pollution and its effects, the researchers were able to see how air pollution-related deaths compared to deaths from other causes. 

The researchers compared air pollution to both deaths and shortened life expectancy related to HIV/AIDS, all forms of violence, smoking, and insect-borne or parasitic diseases. They learned that air pollution not only claims the most lives globally, but it also shortens life expectancy the most dramatically. While smoking was found to cut just over two years from consumers’ lives, air pollution was found to shorten life expectancy by three full years. 

“It is remarkable that both the number of deaths and the loss in life expectancy from air pollution rival the effect of tobacco smoking and are much higher than other causes of death,” said researcher Jos Lelieveld. “Air pollution exceeds malaria as a global cause of premature death by a factor of 19; it exceeds violence by a factor of 16, HIV/AIDS by a factor of 9, alcohol by a factor of 45, and drug abuse by a factor of 60.” 

Making changes

While the risk of air pollution-related deaths differed in different parts of the world, the researchers found that eliminating fossil fuels and working to eliminate man-made emissions would tremendously benefit consumers. 

The study found that taking these steps would increase life expectancy around the world and reduce the risk of air pollution-related illnesses. 

“In this paper we distinguished between avoidable, human-made air pollution and pollution from natural sources such as desert dust and wildfire emissions, which cannot be avoided,” said Münzel. “We show that about two-thirds of premature deaths are attributable to human-made air pollution, mostly from fossil fuel use; this goes up to 80 percent in high-income countries. Five and a half million deaths worldwide a year are potentially avoidable.” 

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