According to a new paper, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, improving the air quality, in both heavily polluted and relatively clean areas, could save millions of lives every year.
The study’s aim was to determine how changes in outdoor air pollution levels would affect pollution related deaths, including heart attack, stroke, lung disease, lung cancer and respiratory infections. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that “in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure.” For the study, a team of environmental engineering and public health researchers designed a model to measure the correlation of the airs pollution levels and related deaths.
“We’re a bit surprised at how much it matters to clean up air pollution, even in comparatively clean places like the U.S.,” lead author Joshua S. Apte of the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas, Austin, told weather.com. “The moral from the work that’s quite interesting is how large the health benefits of cleaning up air pollution are.”
It should also be noted that even if the quality of air was improved in just China and India alone, the percentage of worldwide air pollution related deaths would significantly reduce.
“A huge fraction of the global burden of disease for outdoor air pollution is from India and China alone,” he said. “If those two countries alone met the [World Health Organization] targets for outdoor air quality … worldwide [deaths] would be reduced by 70 percent.”
Deaths attributable to AAP in 2012, by disease
According to WHO, ambient air pollution alone caused 3.7 million deaths in 2012. In the past, Apte has examined air pollution in the developing world and its effects on our health. Yet, the new data has suggested that if developed countries followed the WHO suggested guideline of 10 mg per cubic meter, their populations could also reap the significant health benefits associated with cleaner air.
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency mandates a standard of 12 mg per cubic meter; however, evidence has shown that even air pollution at much lower levels than this standard still harms the health of the population.
“We need to know what the health effects are at truly clean levels,” he said.
Although the results don’t have a practical application as of yet, they have confirmed that if we are to improve the health of the population, and the planet as a whole, the quality of the air must be significantly improved.
“The other thing we need to take into account are what are the strategies that are economically feasible to achieve cleaner air,” Apte said. “What’s the least-cost, fastest way to get toward better and better outdoor air quality?”