Each year, 2.1 million people around the world die because of fine particulate pollutants in the air, and another 470,000 die due to ozone pollution, according to a new study by an international team of scientists. Climate change fostered by human behavior has also exacerbated those trends.
Breathing in so-called PM2.5 pollutants — particles that are less than 2.5 micron in diameter — can cause cardiovascular problems and respiratory diseases like lung cancer, while ozone can contribute to asthma and reduced lung function. The young, the elderly, and the already-sick are the most susceptible to this type of pollution. And researchers concluded that the presence of these pollutants — particularly in developing nations including India, China, and various South American countries — leads to early death. “The mortality in cities with high levels of pollution exceeds that observed in relatively cleaner cities by 15-20%,” they wrote.
Additionally, the study’s authors conclude that man-made climate change has expedited the creation of these pollutants by causing warmer temperatures that make trees emit higher quantities of organic particles that can then become pollutants.
While air pollution’s public health consequences are often more evident in developing nations, where it has been linked to lower birth weights and higher risk of infant mortality, the U.S. has also seen its fair share of pollutants.
In January, a team of over 60 doctors warned the Utah government that air pollution was a grievous enough threat as to warrant declaring a public health emergency, and other reports have shown that it has become a deadlier public health risk than even high cholesterol.
Fortunately, Clean Air Act protections and tighter EPA standards on particulates like soot have helped make a dent in air pollution and its associated health consequences.