Study: Air Pollution Cuts Life Expectancy by Over 5 Years in Some Countries

Aug 31, 2023

Major Global Threats to Life Expectancy

Merely breathing in some parts of the world is now more dangerous than smoking. That’s according to a study published Tuesday by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPIC).

EPIC’s study examined the global impact of air pollution. This includes the harmful chemical hazes produced by factories. It also includes the ash spewed by wildfires. The study looked at the smog-covered urban areas of South Asian countries. It found that their life expectancies had fallen. The decline was by as much as 6.8 years. The cause was air pollution. The global average lifespan loss was about 2.3 years. This is 0.1 more than being a chronic tobacco smoker.

The report named air pollution the number one threat to global health. Polluted air caused by low PM particles that damage lungs is very harmful. PM, or “particulate matter,” is the measuring scale for airborne pollutants. The smaller they are, the more dangers they present. This is because the body’s natural defenses are less likely to catch them before they can invade the lungs. Body defenses include mucus, nose hairs, etc. A typical pollen particle that may cause sneezes is 10-15 PM. Smoke from wildfires is 0.4-0.7. This kind of smoke swept across Canada, Hawaii, and parts of Europe this year.

EPIC did offer hope in the report. China has managed to reduce its air pollution. It has dropped by 43% over the past 10 years. If Asian countries bring air pollution levels in line with World Health Organization guidelines, they can add 3.9 years to their citizens’ lifespans. The key to making improvements? Public awareness.

EPIC’s Michael Greenstone offered a statement to The Wall Street Journal. He said the people can often drive air-pollution improvements.

Reflect: How can scientific discoveries help us live healthier lives?

Based on the details in the infographic, which of the following poses the greatest overall threat to life expectancy? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. sexually transmitted infections
b. unsafe water
c. alcohol use
d. tobacco
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