If smoking, a cholesterol-filled diet, and high blood pressure doesn’t kill you, then the polluted air might. In 2015, ambient pollution was the fifth leading cause of death worldwide, according to a major new report. More than 4.2 million people died prematurely because of particulates and ozone in the air, mostly from coal burning, power plants, and home heating.
China and India account for about half of all global premature deaths from pollution. (“Premature death” means dying before normal life expectancy for that country.) But, while China’s rate of death is stabilizing, India’s is increasing alarmingly. In India, 133,000 more people died from particulates (PM 2.5) in 2015 compared to 2010, while in China, the increase was only about 10,000 over the same period. Between 1990 and 2015, India and Bangladesh saw their pollution-caused deaths rise by more than 50%.
The report comes from the Boston-based Health Effects Institute, and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, based at the University of Washington. The groups also produce an interactive “State of the Global Air” website, where you can compare air quality across countries, seeing where your location ranks.
By contrast to the emerging Asian giants, where air quality is generally poor and getting poorer, Russia, Indonesia, the European Union, Japan, Brazil, and the United States have good air quality that’s managing to get even better. In other countries, there’s been much improvement: Nigeria saw a remarkable 34% drop in particulate-related mortality between 2010 and 2015.
“Less-polluted locations have become cleaner, while particulate concentrations have increased in the more polluted locations. As a result, what was a 7-fold range in average population-weighted concentrations among these countries in 1990 increased to a 10-fold range in 2015,” the report says.
In general, cleaner places are getting cleaner, while the dirty air is getting dirtier. The U.S. has seen a 27% decline in exposure to particulate pollution since 1990, though 88,400 premature deaths were still attributable to particulates in 2015, according to the report.
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