According to recent studies, outdoor air pollution results in 3.3 million deaths across the globe, and this already staggering number may double by 2050 if no measures are taken.
Research was led by experts at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, and it included scientists from Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and USA (Harvard University). The findings were published Wednesday in the Nature journal and revealed that 6% of all global deaths happen prematurely, as a result of air contaminants.
The results were achieved by putting a global atmospheric chemistry model against demographic data and health statistics. Seven air contamination factors were identified: power stations, farming, biomass burning, commercial and household energy use, transportation, industrial activities, and natural sources.
By analyzing how these elements were interrelated, experts investigated the link between air pollution and premature deaths. This global-scale effort was hampered by the fact that air quality isn’t recorded in every part of the world and the toxicity of pollutants varies greatly.
Fine particles, which are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair) were the focus of the study. They usually result from burning organic matter or fossil fuels, and because of their miniature size they can enter deep inside the lungs and the bloodstream, without being removed by the airways.
It was concluded that in countries like China and India the most damaging emissions are those related to heating and cooking. On the other hand, in most of the U.S traffic and power plant pollution are the most detrimental to people’s health.
In the North-Eastern part of the U.S. and in Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Europe agricultural pollutants are the most harmful, because of ammonia resulting from fertilizers and animal waste.
Overall, the largest number of deaths associated with fine particle contamination occur in Asia, due to emissions associated with residential use. 1.4 million people die each year in China due to air pollution, and 650,000 perish in India.
“In some countries air pollution is actually a leading cause of death, and in many countries it is a major one”, declared Jos Lelieveld, co-author of the study.
Fine particle pollution is so detrimental to people’s lives that it actually results in higher mortality than HIV and malaria combined. According to researchers, the disturbing results of this study indicate that air quality controls should become effective immediately, especially in Asian regions with a high population density.
Air pollution has been linked to lung cancer, acute respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Overall, strokes and heart attacks account for almost 75% of the deaths caused by atmospheric contamination.
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