From: The University of Texas at Austin
Published June 16, 2015 09:45 AM

Focusing on Air Quality Could Prevent 2.1 million deaths per year

Improving air quality — in clean and dirty places — could potentially avoid millions of pollution-related deaths each year. That finding comes from a team of environmental engineering and public health researchers who developed a global model of how changes in outdoor air pollution could lead to changes in the rates of health problems such as heart attack, stroke and lung cancer.

Outdoor particulate air pollution results in 3.2 million premature deaths annually, more than the combined impact of HIV-AIDS and malaria. The researchers found that meeting the World Health Organization’s (WHO) particulate air quality guidelines could prevent 2.1 million deaths per year related to outdoor air pollution.

Joshua S. Apte of the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas Austin was lead author of the paper, published June 16 in Environmental Science & Technology. The paper was co-authored by Julian D. Marshall of the University of Minnesota, Aaron J. Cohen of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, and Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia.

Prior research has emphasized the health implications of breathing polluted air. This new study is the first detailed analysis of how improvements in particulate air pollution worldwide would yield improvement in health, and where those improvements would occur.

The researchers looked at outdoor air pollution from particulate matter (PM) smaller than 2.5 microns. Those particles can enter deep into the lungs. Breathing PM is associated with increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular disease; respiratory illnesses such as emphysema; and cancer. PM pollution comes from fires, coal power plants, cars and trucks, and agricultural and industrial emissions. In low-income countries, PM also comes from burning coal, wood, crop waste and animal dung for cooking and heating, and from open burning of trash.

“We wanted to determine how much cleaner different parts of the world would need to be in order to substantially reduce death from particulate matter,” said Apte. “We believe our model could help in designing strategies to protect public health.”

The study used the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease 2010 database; estimates of PM concentrations derived from ground-based measurements, satellite observations and air pollution models; and WHO’s air quality guidelines. Worldwide, most people live in areas with PM concentrations far above WHO’s air quality guideline of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, with some parts of India and China experiencing levels that exceed 100.

Continue reading at The University of Texas at Austin.

Air pollution image via Shutterstock.

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