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Air Pollution Slashes Global Life Expectancy by More Than 2 Years: Report

A group of young protestors

Air pollution has been known to cause health issues including heart disease and lung cancer — aside from also contributing to climate change — and now new research has found that chronic air polluation also shortens the global life expectancy for each person by an average of 2.2 years.

The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) has released its 2022 Annual Update with findings of its latest Air Quality Life Index, which indicated that permanently reducing global air pollution to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline would add 2.2 years onto the average human life expectancy. The index measures PM2.5 levels, which are floating hazardous particles that inflict lung damage.

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Air pollution is more damaging to health than cigarettes or alcohol

EPIC compared the health impacts of air pollution to that of first-hand cigarette smoke, and found that — at 2.2 years in life expectancy reduction — air pollution has a more severe impact  (in comparison, smoking reduces global life expectancy by approximately 1.9 years).

Air pollution also negatively impacts health more than alcohol consumption, which the report said shortened life expectancy by eight months. Other serious issues such as unclean water, malaria etc. shortened life expectancy by several months, indicating that air pollution still has a more negative impact. Even conflict and terrorism, on average, reduce life expectancy by nine days, which is still less than 2.2 years.

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Air pollution from factories

Countries most affected by air pollution face even shorter life expectancies

They indicated that the effects of air pollution are worse in areas such as South Asia, particularly Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, which all have high populations and high concentrations of air pollution. The data suggested that people could live five years longer if pollution were reduced to meet the WHO guideline.

In countries in central and west Africa — including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and the Republic of Congo — more than 97 per cent of the population is exposed to pollution levels that exceed the WHO guideline. The result is that the average life expectancy is 1.6 years shorter for those residents and up to five years shorter in the areas with the greatest amounts of pollution.


How can air pollution be lessened globally?

The report said that if worldwide PM2.5 levels were reduced to the five micrograms per cubic metre, which is the WHO guideline, average life expectancy would rise by an average of 2.2 years instead of dropping.

EPIC suggests imposing policies that regulate pollution, because “the AQLI demonstrates the opportunity countries have to improve the health and lengthen the lives of their citizens if they are willing to accept the costs of environmental regulations.”

See also: 20 environmental jobs for people who love nature.

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