Air pollution shortens lives 2.9 years, annually causes 8.8 million early deaths

  • Published on March 5th, 2020

Published in Cardiovascular Research, a new study—“Loss of life expectancy from air pollution compared to other risk factors: a worldwide perspective”—has concluded from 2015 data that fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone (smog) shorten average life spans more than tobacco smoking, HIV/AIDS, violence, and vector-borne diseases like malaria. The leading culprit: the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, transportation, and the residential sector.

LA smog california pollution

By Meteor Blades

The scientists used a new model created by other researchers, the Global Exposure Mortality Model (GEMM), that offers improved coverage of exposure to PM2.5 matter 1/30th the diameter of a human hair:

Using this model, we investigated the effects of different pollution sources, distinguishing between natural (wildfires, aeolian dust) and anthropogenic emissions, including fossil fuel use. Global excess mortality from all ambient air pollution is estimated at 8.8 (7.11–10.41) million/year, with an LLE [ loss of life expectancy] of 2.9 (2.3–3.5) years, being a factor of two higher than earlier estimates, and exceeding that of tobacco smoking.

Ambient air pollution is one of the main global health risks, causing significant excess mortality and LLE, especially through cardiovascular diseases. It causes an LLE that rivals that of tobacco smoking. The global mean LLE from air pollution strongly exceeds that by violence (all forms together), i.e. by an order of magnitude (LLE being 2.9 and 0.3 years, respectively). […]

The leading air pollution source sector is fossil fuel use, which includes emissions from power generation, industry, traffic, and residential energy use. The residential source additionally involves biofuel use, which relatedly causes household air pollution (Figure 4). In India, for example, residential biofuel use is a main factor in both ambient and household air pollution.24 In China, on the other hand, a large part of the residential air pollution is from small-scale coal (hence fossil fuel) combustion.25,26 Since residential ambient and household pollution are not independent, the associated mortality is not additive.5,27

For North America, the study found the loss of life expectancy was 1.4 years. The worst impact was felt in East Asia, with an average shortened life span of 3.9 years. Worldwide, the estimated number of premature deaths is 8.8 million (ranging from 7.11 million to 10.41 million), the study says. Compare that with the estimated toll for smoking—7.2 million premature deaths in 2015—which shortened lives by an average of 2.2 years. HIV/AIDS shortened life expectancy by 0.7 years. Diseases passed by insects and parasites, malaria being the leading example, shortened average life spans by 0.6 years. The scientists say that violence, including war, cut life expectancy by an estimated 0.3 years.

Neela Bannerjee at InsideClimate News reports:

The findings point to a vast level of threat to human lives from air pollution, according to the study’s authors. “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 Dr. Thomas Münzel, a cardiologist at the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, and an author on the study. “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.”

Meanwhile, the Trump regime is working on a new rule—called Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science—that would make it much harder to enact rules curtailing pollution. The proposal would require scientists to disclose all raw data for studies used to back up new rules. That would make enacting new environmental rules—say, a regulation to tighten emissions—far more difficult, because scientists often rely on medical information gathered under confidentiality agreements. And it’s not just new rules. The proposal is designed to also apply retroactively to regulations already in place to protect public health.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency—which really needs a new name until the Trump regime is toppled—released the latest version of the “transparency” rule first put forth in 2018. Because the new version is retroactive, it’s seen as even worse than the one introduced two years ago. Only 30 days for public comments have been set.

Kelsey Brugger at E&E News quoted Betsy Southerland, the former director of the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology and a member of the Environmental Protection Network: “They are working hand in glove with industry.” Gretchen Goldman, an expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted that the new draft could apply to all EPA “influential science”—not just science used in regulatory efforts. “What EPA is saying here is that it wants political control over what research is used in any of the agency’s work,” UCS’ Michael Halpern said.

Politics over science is high on the roster of the Trump regime’s priorities. But, as the effort to oust Donald Trump from office builds steam in the runup to November, it should always be remembered that the vast majority of the agenda he is trying to impose is not something he himself came up with, but is rather plans the ever-more-extremist Republican Party has been engineering for more than four decades.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.