Published: Thu, March 14, 2019
Medical | By

Air pollution ‘kills 9m people a year’

Air pollution ‘kills 9m people a year’

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.

Around 64,000 deaths in the United Kingdom were believed to be connected to air pollution in 2015, including 17,000 instances of heart and artery illness and 29,000 instances of lung disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Globally, dirty air from vehicle exhausts, factories and power plants causes more deaths than smoking, accounting for 8.8 million deaths a year, compared to the 7.3 million people that die from inhaling smoke.

Air pollution causes more deaths globally than smoking and kills twice as many people as previously thought, including 64,000 a year in the United Kingdom, a study has found.

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

"Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not".

Jos Lelieveld, of the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and the Cyprus Institute Nicosia, Cyprus.

In Europe, specifically, pollution has caused almost 800,000 deaths at a rate of 133 per 100,000.


The complex study involved computer simulations of interacting natural and man-made chemicals combined with new information about population density, disease risk factors, and causes of death.

"To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking", said Munzel. The findings were particularly grim for Eastern Europe, with countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Ukraine reporting an excess death rate of over 200 each year per 100,000 of the population, researchers said.

"They should re-evaluate legislation on air quality and lower the EU's current [air pollution] limits", he said. We think this may be explained by more advanced health care in western Europe, where life expectancy is generally higher. "We need to see these worldwide guidelines in United Kingdom law in order to drive decisive action to tackle air pollution and protect the nation's health".

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.

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

"We could also reduce air pollution-related death rates in Europe by up to 55 percent", the study maintained. It causes damage to the blood vessels through increased oxidative stress, which then leads to increases in blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure.

According to Prof Lelieveld, the fine dust content in the air could be reduced further by limiting agricultural emissions, which are responsible for a large amount of particulate matter pollution and for the associated extra number of deaths in Europe. "While much of the push for a rapid shift to clean, renewable energy economy rightfully focuses on climate change, we should also remember that moving to wind, solar and geothermal systems will also eliminate all the fossil fuel-emitted air pollution that is cutting many thousands of lives short every day", Edwards added.

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