The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale

More people die from air pollution than Malaria and HIV/Aids

Mortality-air-pollution image
Units of mortality, deaths per area of 100 km × 100 km (colour coded). In the white areas, annual mean PM2.5 and O3 are below the concentration–response thresholds where no excess mortality is expected. More than 3 million people die prematurely each year from outdoor pollution and without action deaths will double by 2050. Image credit nature.

Assessment of the global burden of disease is based on epidemiological cohort studies that connect premature mortality to a wide range of causes including the long-term health impacts of ozone and fine particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5). It has proved difficult to quantify premature mortality related to air pollution, notably in regions where air quality is not monitored, and also because the toxicity of particles from various sources may vary. Here we use a global atmospheric chemistry model to investigate the link between premature mortality and seven emission source categories in urban and rural environments. In accord with the global burden of disease for 2010, we calculate that outdoor air pollution, mostly by PM2.5, leads to 3.3 (95 per cent confidence interval 1.61–4.81) million premature deaths per year worldwide, predominantly in Asia. We primarily assume that all particles are equally toxic, but also include a sensitivity study that accounts for differential toxicity. We find that emissions from residential energy use such as heating and cooking, prevalent in India and China, have the largest impact on premature mortality globally, being even more dominant if carbonaceous particles are assumed to be most toxic. Whereas in much of the USA and in a few other countries emissions from traffic and power generation are important, in eastern USA, Europe, Russia and East Asia agricultural emissions make the largest relative contribution to PM2.5, with the estimate of overall health impact depending on assumptions regarding particle toxicity. Model projections based on a business-as-usual emission scenario indicate that the contribution of outdoor air pollution to premature mortality could double by 2050.

Sources and more information

  • More people die from air pollution than Malaria and HIV/Aids, new study shows, the guardian, 16 September 2015.
  • The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale, nature, doi:10.1038/nature15371, 17 September 2015.

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