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Polluted air reduces life expectancy worldwide by two years

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Paris (AFP)- Microscopic air pollution caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels is shortening life around the world by more than two years, researchers reported on Tuesday.

Across South Asia, the average person would live five years longer if fine particulate levels met World Health Organization standards, according to a report by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.

In the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, home to 300 million people, crippling lung and heart disease from so-called PM2.5 pollution is cutting life expectancy by eight years, and in the capital New Delhi of a decade.

PM2.5 pollution – 2.5 microns in diameter or less, roughly the diameter of a human hair – penetrates deep into the lungs and enters the bloodstream.

In 2013, the United Nations classified it as a carcinogen.

The WHO says the density of PM2.5 in the air should not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period, or 5 mcg/m3 on average over an entire year.

In the face of mounting evidence of adverse health impacts, the WHO tightened these standards last year, the first change since air quality guidelines were established in 2005.

“Clean air brings extra years of life to people around the world,” said Crista Hasenkopf and her colleagues in the Air Quality Life Index report.

“Permanently reducing global air pollution to meet WHO guidelines would add 2.2 years to average life expectancy.”

Major wins in China

Almost all populated regions of the world exceed WHO guidelines, but nowhere more than in Asia: 15 times in Bangladesh, 10 times in India and 9 times in Nepal and Pakistan.

Central and West Africa, along with much of Southeast Asia and parts of Central America, also face pollution levels – and shortened lives – well above the world average.

Surprisingly, PM2.5 pollution in 2020, the most recent data available, was virtually unchanged from the previous year despite a sharp slowdown in the global economy and a corresponding drop in CO2 emissions due to lockdowns. Covid.

“In South Asia, pollution actually increased in the first year of the pandemic,” the authors noted.

One country that has seen major improvements is China.

PM2.5 pollution dropped nearly 40% between 2013 and 2020 in this country of 1.4 billion people, adding two years to life expectancy.

But even with this progress, lives in China today are shortened by an average of 2.6 years.

The most affected provinces are Henan and Hebei in north-central China and the coastal province of Shandong.

Compared to other causes of premature death, the impact of PM2.5 pollution is comparable to that of tobacco smoking, more than three times that of alcohol consumption and six times that of HIV/AIDS, according to the report.