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Air Pollution Reduces Life Expectancy Worldwide: Study

New research raises further concerns about the effects of air pollution, suggesting that exposure may reduce life expectancy by up to two years, depending on where a person lives. 

In a study published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, researchers from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. report that exposure to ambient particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) reduces a person’s life expectancy by an average of one year.

Researchers analyzed exposure to PM 2.5 using data from the Global Burden of Disease project and actuarial standard life table methods. They looked at measurements of outdoor or ambient air pollution and compiled data on studies measuring air pollution levels.

The data concluded that in 2016, particulate matter 2.5 reduced the average global life expectancy at birth by one year. People residing in Africa had a reduced life expectancy of 1.9 years, those in Asia by 1.2 years, in Russian nine months, and here in the United States by nearly five months.

PM 2.5 air pollution is a major risk factor for premature death, even at levels below the current national safety standards. It is a mixture of ultra small particles of dust, dirt, smoke, soot, and liquid smaller than 2.5 micrometers. One strand of human hair is 70 micrometers, 30 times the size of PM 2.5 particles.

This type of air pollution comes from coal fired power plants, car exhaust, wildfires, and dust storms. It is inhaled into the lungs and can lead to health problems. One study linked PM 2.5 exposure to millions of cases of diabetes, while another study indicated it increased the risk of some types of stroke.

If all countries met the World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines for PM 2.5, the global life expectancy would increase by half a year, on average, researchers indicate.

While the reduction in life expectancy may not be as profound here in the United States as other highly polluted countries, that may change in the coming years.

Research has linked air pollution to increased cardiovascular disease, accelerated aging in children, and a heightened risk of suffering degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are closely linked. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions not only positively effects climate change, but also improves human health, the study’s authors wrote.

More than 90% of the world is affected by poor air quality, according to previous studies. Reducing air pollution emissions today could save more than 153 million lives globally.

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