Air pollution cuts the average lifespan of people around the globe by almost two years, analysis shows (https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/reports/), making it the single greatest threat to human health.
The research looked at the particulate pollution produced by the burning of fossil fuels by vehicles and industry. It found that in many parts of the worst-affected nations – India and China – lifespans were being shortened by six years.
The impact of toxic air is greater than that of cigarette smoking or HIV/Aids.
The World Health Organization (https://www.theguardian.com/world/world-health-organization) has said 90% of people are exposed to unsafe air, and breathing it in is killing 7 million people a year (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/25/air-pollution-kills-7m-people-a-year) and harming billions more.
The early deaths figure is certain to be an underestimate as it only includes particle pollution and the five most firmly linked causes of death. Early estimates using improved models indicate a total figure of 9 million from particle pollution (https://www.pnas.org/content/115/38/9592). New links to health damage are being revealed each month, with children especially affected. Recent work has shown connections to stunted lungs (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/14/diesel-pollution-stunts-childrens-lung-growth-london-study-shows) and childhood obesity (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/14/diesel-pollution-stunts-childrens-lung-growth-london-study-shows)
The latest work created a measurement called the air quality life index (AQLI), (https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/ mc_cid=2b8c4bde96&mc_eid=75501c8839) which allows people to find out how much longer they would live if they breathed air that met WHO guidelines, compared to where they live.
In the US, about one-third of the population lives in areas with polluted air, and those living in the most polluted counties could expect to live up to one year longer if the air were clean. The global average reduction in lifespan is 1.8 years – more than the 1.6 years that results from smoking tobacco. Other risks to human health have even smaller effects: dirty water and sanitation cut lifespan by seven months, and HIV/Aids by four months on average. Deaths from war and terrorism equate to a reduction of 22 days in the global average lifespan.