Microscopic air pollution caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels shortens lifespans around the world by more than two years, researchers reported Tuesday.
In South Asia, the average person would live five years longer if fine particulate matter levels met World Health Organization standards, according to a report from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.
In the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, home to 300 million, lung and heart disease caused by so-called PM2.5 pollution cut life expectancy by eight years, and in the capital city of New Delhi by a decade.
PM2.5 pollution (2.5 microns wide or less, about the diameter of a human hair) penetrates deep into the lungs and enters the bloodstream.
In 2013, the United Nations classified it as a carcinogenic agent.
The WHO says that the density of PM2.5 in the air should not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter in a 24-hour period, or 5 mcg/m3 on average over a whole year.
Faced with mounting evidence of harmful health impacts, the WHO tightened these standards last year, the first change since establishing air quality guidance in 2005.
“Clean air pays for itself in additional years of life for people around the world,” lead researcher Crista Hasenkopf and colleagues said in the Air Quality of Life Index report.
“Permanently reducing global air pollution to meet WHO guidelines would add 2.2 years to average life expectancy.”
Nearly every populated region in the world exceeds the WHO guidelines, but nowhere more than in Asia: 15 times in Bangladesh, 10 times in India, and nine times in Nepal and Pakistan.
Central and West Africa, along with much of Southeast Asia and parts of Central America, also face pollution levels – and shorter life spans – well above the global average.
Surprisingly, PM2.5 pollution in 2020, the most recent data available, was largely unchanged from the previous year despite a sharp slowdown in the global economy and a corresponding drop in CO2 emissions due to lockdowns. of Covid.
“In South Asia, pollution actually increased during the first year of the pandemic,” the authors noted.