In the News
November 21, 2018
November 21, 2018
In the middle of a wildfire, exceedingly thick smoke can cause people to immediately asphyxiate. But more limited smoke exposure—the kind millions in the Bay Area are suffering from as a result of the faraway Camp Fire—can also have a long-term effect. California as a whole already has the highest levels of particulate air pollution—otherwise known as smog—in the United States. And as a new index released Monday by the University of Chicago shows, long-term exposure to high-level smog pollution takes a meaningful toll on human life.
The new metric, known as the Air Quality Life Index or AQLI, is an attempt to quantify the long-term health impacts of inhaling particulate matter, which refers to tiny particles of material that can penetrate deep into the circulatory system and potentially infiltrate the central nervous system. Overall, the AQLI asserts that long-term exposure is reducing the average life expectancy by 1.8 years—making it “the greatest current threat to human health globally.”
Americans, for the most part, aren’t affected by this threat. The majority of smog’s affect on human life expectancy comes from smog generated from fossil fuel plants in China and India. But Californians are certainly affected, as their state has the worst long-term air quality in the country. In many areas, the researchers behind the AQLI have predicted, particulate matter pollution has shaved one year off residents’ average life expectancy.
But the AQLI has made one impact clear: The more humans are exposed to particulate matter, the shorter their average life expectancy becomes. And humans in California risk getting exposed to a lot more particulate matter as climate change worsens and exacerbates wildfires.