The deaths from toxic air are now more than the people who die from tobacco smoking as per research and the early deaths caused by air pollution is twice than what was estimated earlier.
The new data used by the scientists estimate the premature death of almost 800,000 people per year in Europe due to polluted air, and in each case, life became short by average over two years. In Europe alone, health damage from air pollution exceeds the global average. The dense population and the exposure of poor air quality in Europe considered among the highest worldwide.
New research that got published in the European Heart Journal said, the time when polluted air hits the lungs first, its impact on heart disease and strokes through bloodstream causes death that is double the deaths caused from respiratory diseases.
The analysis from the research published in September confirms that the calculation of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution is 8.8m in a year around the world, i.e. double the previous estimates.
To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking,
said Prof Thomas Münzel at the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany and one of the scientists behind the new study. “Smoking is avoidable, but air pollution is not.”
Prof Jos Lelieveld of the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and also part of the team said: “Since most air pollutants come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources of energy urgently. When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates by up to 55%.”
The three sets of data combined for the new research are:
- Air pollution exposure
- Population density and age
- The health impacts of toxic air
The calculation shows a much higher number of premature deaths due to the availability of better data in recent times on the outspread effect of air pollution.
Previously, little data was available to study the effect of high levels of air pollution along with the results from second-hand smoking studies which lead to an underestimation of deaths. Presently, including significant research from China, 40 and more large studies are evident on this issue. Now a full range of health impacts that include diabetes and high blood pressure are covered under the research and that also increases the estimated number of deaths.
The estimates of early deaths differed in countries significantly. There were about 98 deaths per 100,000 and 1.5 years cut in the lifespan in the UK whereas the number is 154 per 100,000 people with an average of 2.4 years less life expectancy in Germany. According to Lelieveld, the estimated number is lower in the UK because of the Atlantic winds that help in dispersing pollution.
At the time of tackling cardiovascular diseases, the small particles, less than 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5) are not paid attention as per Münzel. He said, “The prevention guidelines for CVD must adopt air pollution as an important risk factor.” The PM2.5 limit in the EU is more than double compared to the guideline of the World Health Organization (WHO) that is used by Canada and Australia.
“The EU is lagging a long way behind,” Münzel said. “We as doctors and patients cannot alter the limits for air pollution, so the politicians have to stand up and give us an environment that keeps us safe.”
Prof Metin Avkiran of the British Heart Foundation said: “Air pollution is clearly a huge problem across Europe. We need to see WHO guidelines in UK law in order to drive decisive action to protect the nation’s health.”
Penny Woods, the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Toxic air doesn’t just cut lives short. It also seriously affects the health and quality of life of millions of people.”
The early death estimates for Europe ranging from 645,000 to 934,000 have significant uncertainties which scientists accept, and there is a possibility that some number got misattributed to air pollution. However, they said it is also more likely that the original number of deaths could be even higher.
Moreover, the deaths of the infant due to air pollution also not included in the study as the evidence is not that strong yet and only PM2.5 and ozone are considered in the new work leaving nitrogen dioxide, other particles or pollutants.