Outdoor Air Pollution Kills 3.3 Million People A Year, Research Finds

You know that smog that you hate breathing when you’re stuck in traffic? Yeah, it’s killing you.

I suppose that’s something that most of us know in the back of our heads, but it probably doesn’t come to the forefront all that often. New research published in the journal Nature might change that, though, as the numbers are pretty clear — 3.3 million people are killed every year as a result of outdoor air pollution.


Very notably, that number is set to continue rising as the pollution problem becomes more and more impossible to ignore. The number of deaths caused by outdoor air pollution each year is currently set to rise to 6.6 million a year by 2050 (by researcher estimates), if emissions aren’t cut. Just another reminder why electric vehicles are so important to us.

“This projection should sound alarm bells for public-health agencies around the world,” stated Michael Jerrett, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA.

“Should.” Probably. But will it? Doubtful. People get behind recalls and mistakes in technology, like when national GM ignition Switch Malfunction recall was in order, everyone was up in arms. For pollution and public health though, barely a whisper.

Climate Progress provides more context and stats:

The study found that China and India — the world’s first- and third-highest greenhouse gas emitters — have the highest rates of death from air pollution. In China, a country that’s suffered from off-the-charts air pollution that’s closed schools and forced some residents to stay indoors, air pollution kills nearly 1.4 million people each year. India — which is home to Delhi, a city which has the most toxic air of any city in the world — sees about 645,000 deaths due to air pollution every year. In the United States, according to the study, air pollution kills about 54,900 people annually.

The main causes of air pollution-related death are cerebrovascular disease (which affects blood flow to the brain), certain forms of heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Residential and commercial energy use — which includes burning things like coal and wood on a small scale and using diesel for fuel — contributes most to deadly outdoor air pollution worldwide. The second-largest contributor to dangerous air pollution is, surprisingly, agriculture — the study found that ammonia released from fertilizer and animal waste reacted with traffic and power plant fumes to create dangerous particulate matter. In the United Kingdom, nearly half of all pollution-related deaths are tied to agricultural pollution, according to the study.

It should be noted here that the figures quoted only account for outdoor pollution. Indoor air pollution is perhaps an even greater problem (indoor air is, in general, incredibly polluted as well). If deaths caused by indoor air pollution were factored in, then the numbers involved would be much, much higher.

But as it stands, this new work represents the most comprehensive quantification of air pollution death tolls to date.

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