According to a study just published in the medical journal... Cardiovascular ResearchAir pollution is responsible for shortening the lives of people around the world on a much larger scale than wars and other forms of violence, parasitic and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS or smoking. The scientists in the study say the world is facing a "pandemic" of air pollution that is shortening life expectancy by an average of three years.
This is the first study to show the effects of air pollution on deaths according to age, type of disease and also its effect on life expectancy at the level of different countries and regions of the world. Professors Jos Lelieveld and Thomas Münzel of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Department of Cardiology at the University Medical Centre Mainz, Germany, who led the research, used a new method for modelling the effects of various air pollution sources on mortality rates. They estimate that global air pollution caused an additional 8.8 million premature deaths per year in 2015. This represents an average reduction in life expectancy of almost three years for all people in the world.
Reduction of life expectancy
By way of comparison, smoking reduces life expectancy by an average of 2.2 years (7.2 million deaths), HIV/AIDS by 0.7 years (1 million deaths), diseases such as malaria that are transmitted by parasites or insects such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas by 0.6 years (600,000 deaths), and all forms of violence (including deaths caused by wars) by 0.3 years (530,000 deaths).
Researchers examined the effects of air pollution on six categories of diseases: lower respiratory tract infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease leading to stroke, and other non-communicable diseases, which include conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. They found that cardiovascular disease (heart disease and cerebrovascular disease combined) is responsible for most of the decrease in life expectancy due to air pollution: 43 % of the world's loss of life expectancy.
They also found that air pollution had a greater effect on shortening the lives of older people. With the exception of deaths of children under five years of age in low-income countries, such as Africa and South Asia. Globally, about 75 % of deaths attributed to air pollution occur among people over 60 years of age.
Professor Jos Lelieveld comments its results: " It is remarkable that both the number of deaths and the loss of life expectancy due to air pollution rival the effect of smoking and are much higher than other causes of death. Air pollution exceeds malaria as a global cause of premature death by 19 times, violence by 16 times, HIV/AIDS by 9 times, alcohol by 45 times and drug abuse by 60 times."
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His colleague Professor Münzel completes the picture: " Given that the impact of air pollution on public health in general is much greater than expected and that it is a global phenomenon, we believe that our results show that there is an "air pollution pandemic"."
Much more attention should be paid to this by policy makers and the medical community. Both air pollution and smoking are preventable, but in recent decades, air pollution has received much less attention than smoking, particularly among cardiologists.two-thirds of premature deaths are attributable to human-induced air pollution"In this document, we have distinguished between air pollution from human sources, which is preventable, and pollution from natural sources such as desert dust and forest fire emissions, which cannot be prevented. We show that about two-thirds of premature deaths are attributable to man-made air pollution, mainly from fossil fuel use; this figure rises to 80 % in high-income countries. Five and a half million deaths per year worldwide are potentially preventable".
"It is important for policy makers and the medical community to realize that air pollution is a major risk factor for heart and blood vessel disease. It should be included as a risk factor, along with smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol, in the guidelines of the European Society of Cardiology and the American Heart Association on the prevention of acute and chronic heart syndromes and heart failure".
The phenomenon could be stopped
Researchers estimate that if air pollution were reduced by eliminating fossil fuel emissions, average life expectancy around the world would increase by just over a year, and by almost two years if all human emissions were eliminated.In Europe, the average life expectancy lost is 2.2 years, of which 1.7 years could be avoided.However, there are large differences between regions due to the diversity of programming. In East Asia, where the loss of life expectancy due to avoidable air pollution is highest, three of the four years of life expectancy lost on average could be avoided by removing human emissions, while in Africa, where population growth is rapid and dust pollution predominates, only 0.7 of the 3.1 years lost could be avoided. In Europe, the average life expectancy lost is 2.2 years, of which 1.7 could be avoided, and in North America, the average life expectancy lost is 1.4 years, of which 1.1 could be avoided, mainly through the phasing out of fossil fuels. [Cf. complete data[Country by country]
Professor Lelieveld adds: " In Africa, air pollution represents a health risk comparable to HIV/AIDS and malaria. However, in most other parts of the world, air pollution is a much greater health risk. When we looked at the role of pollution in several diseases, its effect on cardiovascular disease was by far the most important - very similar to the effect of smoking. Air pollution damages blood vessels by increasing oxidative stress, which then leads to increased blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure."
Hypersensitivity on public health issues
This study comes at a time of hypersensitivity of opinion on public health issues. With the coronavirus, the world is beginning to appreciate the effects that a public health crisis can have on the whole organization of societies and the colossal economic impacts it entails. Doctors have long been warning of the risks of air pollution; this is the first time that the relationship between disease, mortality and air quality has been so precisely brought to light. This should encourage the leaders of most of the countries concerned to react vigorously.
The reactions of the European Council were not long in coming. It met on 5 March and noted that the measures taken at all levels were not sufficient in view of the risk that air pollution poses to the population.
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There are certainly improvements, in particular thanks to the thresholds applied in the Union, explains the Council in an statement : " EU air quality policy has made a significant contribution to improving air quality. "But according to the Environment Ministers of the Member States, "much remains to be done". The Ministers" Recognise that measures taken at local, national and EU level have not always been sufficient to meet air quality standards and keep exceedances as low as possible. ".
One of the problems identified is the lack of coherence in European policies. To remedy this, says the Council, air quality objectives need to be "fully taken into account in legislation" affecting emission sources, citing policies on "climate, industry, energy, transport and agriculture".
Several NGOs welcomed in a statement published Friday the awareness of the 27; but they call decision-makers to action. "Our governments must now take concrete steps to reduce pollution at source," urged the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).
" The European Commission should also not hesitate to take legal action against governments that fail to meet their current legal obligation to combat illegal levels of air pollution. "says ClientEarth. « There is no reason why Europeans should wait any longer to breathe clean, healthy air. "