NTU-study: ‘Air pollution accounts for 135 million deaths in 40 years’

According to Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), air pollution can be linked to about 135 million premature deaths between 1980 and 2020. This is according to a study published in the journal Environment International.

These deaths would be caused by airborne PM2.5, particulate matter from vehicles, industrial emissions, and natural sources such as fires or dust storms.

According to the study, meteorological phenomena such as El Niño contributed to a 14% increase in deaths from diseases such as strokes, heart and lung diseases, and cancer because they can exacerbate the effects of pollutants by increasing their concentration in the air.

PM2.5, particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, is harmful to human health when inhaled because the particles are small enough to reach the bloodstream.

To understand how PM2.5 pollution affects mortality rates, the researchers studied satellite data from NASA on the levels of fine particulate matter in the Earth’s atmosphere, among other things.

Most premature deaths in Asia

Asia counts the most significant number of premature deaths attributable to PM2.5 pollution, with more than 98 million deaths, mainly in China and India, the study said. Premature deaths were also high in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Japan: between two and five million people.

The researchers also found that 363 major air pollution episodes happened worldwide over the past four decades, with an average of nine episodes yearly.

Only seven countries meet WHO standards

The study is one of the most comprehensive studies on air quality and climate. It drew on 40 years of data to compile an overview of the effects of particulate matter on health.

Steve Yim, an associate professor at NTU’s Asian School of the Environment, who led the study, also notes that climate change could worsen air pollution in the future.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for 6,7 million premature deaths a year worldwide. If, like the study, you extrapolate that over 40 years, you arrive at the improbable number of 268 million deaths, or almost double the number the study suggests.

Only ten countries and territories out of 134 achieved the WHO’s standards for a pervasive form of air pollution last year. Seven countries met the WHO annual PM2.5 guideline: Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius, and New Zealand.


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