Particulate pollution the ‘world’s greatest threat to human health,’ study finds

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Sept. 1 (UPI) — Researchers say that air pollution worldwide is taking several years of life away from billions of people around the world — particularly in India, where it’s reducing life expectancy by an average of 9 years.

According to the 15-page report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, coal is the chief culprit in the deadly pollution and stronger clean air policies can save several years of life.

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Researchers say pollution is proving to be even more deadly than many other common causes of death, like smoking and disease.

“Unless global particulate air pollution is reduced to meet the World Health Organization’s guideline, the average person is set to lose 2.2 years off their lives,” the authors wrote. “Residents of the most polluted areas of the world could see their lives cut short by 5 years or more.

“Working unseen inside the human body, particulate pollution has a more devastating impact on life expectancy than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.”

Pollution is deadliest in India, particularly the northern part of the country, the study says. There, 480 million people are facing the “most extreme levels of air pollution in the world.”

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China, it notes, has cut air pollution in recent years, but its people are still losing an average of 2.6 years of life.

“The Air Quality Life Index demonstrates that particulate pollution is the world’s greatest threat to human health,” the study’s authors conclude.

“The United States, Europe, Japan and China provide lasting examples to more polluted regions that the threat of air pollution can be tackled through serious and sustained public policies. Such public policies that target the major underlying cause of particulate pollution — fossil fuels — are also critical to confronting the shared challenge of climate change.”

Researchers say that switching to cleaner energy and enforcing air quality measures have cut pollution in many countries. China began “a war against pollution” in 2013 and cut its levels by 29%, effectively adding 1.5 years of life for each citizen.

The study says air pollution is the leading cause of shortened life expectancy over time, followed by smoking, alcohol and drug use, unsafe water, road injuries, AIDS, malaria and conflict.