According to a study published on Tuesday, February 9, pollution linked to fossil fuels would have caused more than eight million premature deaths in 2018, or nearly one in five adults in the world.
The largely underestimated effects of air pollution
According to’WHO, outdoor air pollution kills about 4.2 million people per year. However, this assessment would be vastly underestimated. To obtain these figures, the researchers in fact relied on satellite data and surface surveys to determine the concentrations of fine particles PM2.5. However, these do not make it possible to determine the exact origin of these particles. They could come from the combustion of fossil fuels such as smoke from forest fires for example.
In a recent study, the details of which are published in the journal Environmental research, Joel Schwartz and his team at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health clarified this data using a 3D atmospheric chemistry model dividing the Earth into blocks of 60 km by 50 km, coupled with emissions data CO2 emissions from different sectors and air circulation simulations from NASA.
Once the concentration of PM2.5 was known, they looked at the impact on health by developing a new risk model.
Eight million deaths
This work finally revealed that the fine particles released by the combustion of oil, gas and coal resulted in more than eight million premature deaths in 2018. This corresponds to 20% of adults died in the world. In other words, the results of the WHO are here almost doubled. Based on these last figures, then we can consider that air pollution kills about three times more than alcohol every year.
Out of this sample of eight million premature deaths, half were recorded in China and India, with another million deaths evenly split between Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan and the United States.
Coronary heart disease and stroke are responsible for almost half of these deaths. Lung disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure making up most of the rest.
A shorter lifespan of two years on average
Other important data: Globally, air pollution shortens life by more than two years on average. The most affected continent remains Asia where the average lifespan is reduced from 4.1 years in China, 3.9 years in India and 3.8 years in Pakistan. In Europe, the service life is on average shortened by eight months.
“We often discuss the dangers of burning fossil fuels in the context of climate change, but overlook the potential health impacts“, Notes Joel Schwartz, lead author of the study. “The possibility ofavoiding millions of premature deaths should be one more reason to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the global shift from brown to green energy“.