21:14 03.04.2019

Revealed: Toxic air lowers life expectancy by 20 months

Source: Telegraph
Revealed: Toxic air lowers life expectancy by 20 months

Exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution is almost as dangerous as smoking, reducing life expectancy by an average of 20 months, according to a major study.

The report, the State of Global Air, is the latest in a slew of evidence on the links between air pollution and poor health.

It shows that breathing toxic air – both inside and outside the home – will cut the life expectancy of a baby born today by an average of 20 months, compared to a 21-month fall in life expectancy in a smoker.

Worldwide, air pollution contributed to nearly five million deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer and chronic lung disease in 2017.

Children born in the most polluted countries of the world – Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan – face the greatest threat from air pollution. Babies born here face lost life of around two years and six months, the report found.

The report, published by the United States-based Health Effects Institute in conjunction with the universities of Washington, Texas and British Columbia, looks at the risk of ambient – or outdoor – air pollution versus household pollution and finds that household pollution contributes to nine months of lost life, versus a year of lost life from outdoor or ambient air pollution.

The analysis found that China and India together were responsible for over half of the total number of global deaths, with both countries facing over 1.2 million early deaths from all air pollution in 2017.

China has begun to reduce air pollution and the amount of particulate matter – the tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the tissues – in 74 cities in the country fell by about a third between 2013 and 2017. 

But Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have experienced steep increases in air pollution levels since 2010.

The report also highlighted that nearly half of the world’s population – a total of 3.6 billion people – were exposed to household air pollution in 2017.

Globally, there has been a growing recognition of the dangers of household air pollution, particularly in the form of cooking with solid fuel such as wood.

However, the practice is still widespread in many countries. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 96 per cent of the population live in households that cook with solid fuel. In Ethiopia that number is 89 per cent.

The report also highlights how household air pollution can pollute outdoor air: indoor pollution emitted outside contributes to one in four air pollution-related deaths in India.

“A child’s health is critical to the future of every society, and this newest evidence suggests a much shorter life for anyone born into highly polluted air,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute.

“In much of the world, just breathing in an average city is the health equivalent to being a heavy smoker,” he added.

Alastair Harper, head of advocacy at Unicef UK, said: “This report adds to a bleak picture of how polluted air impacts the health of society’s most vulnerable groups, particularly children. Evidence continues to mount showing a relationship between exposure to toxic air and low birthweight, reduced lung development and childhood asthma.

“It’s clear that with better monitoring of global air pollution data, we will improve our understanding of the issue and how we can tackle it,” he said. 

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