In the News
June 14, 2022
June 14, 2022
Particulate air pollution is reducing life expectancy by 2.2 years globally compared to a hypothetical world that meets international health guidelines, a new report has found.
Worldwide exposure to fine particulate patter — PM 2.5, or particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less — has an impact on par with that of smoking, more than three times that of alcohol use and unsafe water, according to the University of Chicago’s 2022 Air Quality Life Index.
The life expectancy effect of this type of pollution amounts to six times that of HIV/AIDS and 89 times that of conflict and terrorism, researchers observed.
“It would be a global emergency if Martians came to Earth and sprayed a substance that caused the average person on the planet to lose more than two years of life expectancy,” Michael Greenstone, index co-creator and an economics professor at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, said in a statement.
“This is similar to the situation that prevails in many parts of the world, except we are spraying the substance, not some invaders from outer space,” Greenstone added.
PM 2.5 poses such a threat that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently decreased what it deems to be a safe level of exposure from 10 micrograms per cubic meter to 5 micrograms per cubic meter, the authors noted.
Despite the fact that the economy incurred significant losses during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, average PM 2.5 pollution remained largely unchanged from the year before, the researchers stressed. Meanwhile, growing evidence has emerged that even low levels of air pollution can damage human health, the authors added.
These circumstances led the WHO to change its guidelines, bringing about 97.3 percent of the global population within the unsafe realm, according to the report.
The worst impacts of PM 2.5 exposure are visible in South Asia, where more than half of the total life burden of pollution occurs worldwide, the researchers found.
Residents of the region are projected to lose about five years off their lives on average if countries maintain today’s high levels of pollution. Since 2013, about 44 percent of the global rise in pollution has come from India, according to the study.