Air pollution causes more deaths than smoking — WHO Report

James Marshall
March 12, 2019

Air pollution is killing more people every year than smoking, according to research published on Tuesday that called for urgent action to stop burning fossil fuels.

Although it was previously thought that emissions were responsible for around 40,000 deaths in the United Kingdom, new figures suggest it is closer to 64,000, just 18 per cent less than the 78,000 deaths caused by tobacco.

A further 29,000 deaths in Britain were also linked to air pollution which exacerbated other conditions such as cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

"To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking", said Munzel.

Co-author Professor Thomas Munzel, from the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany, said: "Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not".

In Europe alone the death toll was found to be 790,000, twice the previous estimate.

Average life expectancy was reduced by 1.5 years among people in the United Kingdom dying as a result of air pollution, according to the study.

However Britons were not as badly affected as some of their European neighbours. "The number of deaths from cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to air pollution is much higher than expected".

Researchers used data from a model that simulates how the atmosphere interacts with chemicals from energy generation, industry, traffic and agriculture sources, which they applied to a new model of global exposure and death rates and to population and geographic data from the World Health Organization.

"The revised number for China is 2.8 million deaths per year", more than two-and-a-half times current estimates, lead author Jos Lelieveld, a researcher at the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Germany, told AFP by email.

In Europe, despite more stringent pollution controls than in most other regions, the figure is higher - 133 deaths per 100 000 people.

The researchers said new data indicated the hazardous health impact of PM2.5 - the main cause of respiratory and cardiovascular disease - was much worse than previously thought.

Worldwide, air pollution caused 120 extra deaths in every 100,000 people in a year, with deaths in parts of Europe at an even higher rate of up to 200 in 100,000.

Now the average safety limit for PM2.5 particles in the European Union is 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

The WHO has recommended that the density in the air of these unsafe microscopic particles should not exceed, on average, 10 microgrammes per cubic metre (35 mcg/m3) per year.

"In the USA, Australia and Canada the World Health Organization guideline is taken as a basis for legislation, which is also needed in the European Union". "The EU is lagging a long way behind in this respect".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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