More people die from air pollution than malaria and aids

More people die from air pollution than malaria and aids

More than 3 million people a year are killed prematurely by outdoor air pollution, according to a landmark new study published in the journal Nature, more than malaria and hiv/Aids combined.

Wood and coal burning for heating homes and cooking is the biggest cause, especially in Asia, but the research reveals a remarkably heavy toll from farming emissions in Europe and the US, where it is the leading cause of deaths.

The report warns that, unless action is taken, the number of deaths – already equivalent to six deaths every minute – will double by 2050. “This projection should sound alarm bells for public health agencies around the world,” said environmental health expert Professor Michael Jerrett, at the University of California and who was not involved in the research.

Most air pollution deaths are caused by tiny particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. These cause heart attacks and strokes, which account for three-quarters of the 3.3 million annual deaths, with lung cancer and respiratory diseases responsible for the rest. The work did not include the effect of indoor air pollution, from cooking fires for example, which is estimated to cause an additional 3.4 million deaths a year.

The new work is the first study to single out different outdoor air pollution sources and estimate the number of premature deaths they each cause, considering road traffic, fossil fuel power stations and other sources. The researchers used a detailed computer model of the global atmosphere to assess the impact of air pollution on different populations, including new information on how pollution affects people in China and India.

A third of all premature deaths were the result of using smoky fuels such as wood and coal for heating homes or cooking and using dirty diesel generators for electricity, all well-known hazards. This domestic energy use causes half the 645,000 annual deaths in India and a third of the 1.4 million annual deaths in China.

But the research found that agricultural emissions of ammonia had a “remarkable” impact, according to Professor Jos Lelieveld, at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, who led the research. A fifth of all global deaths resulted from these emissions, which come mainly from cattle, chickens and pigs and from the over-use of fertiliser.

 

Source: The Guardian

Date: September 2015

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