For many people, just taking a breath of air may prove deadly. According to a recent research, more than three million people die prematurely because of air pollution worldwide.
A group of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany learned that in some areas of the world air pollution is so dense that airborne pollutants can penetrate deep into lung tissue and lead to conditions that can eventually result in complications and even premature death.
And these pollutants come mostly from cooking and heating, researchers found.
Scientists reported that airborne fine particles known as PM2.5 are the cause of over 3.2 million premature deaths per year. Moreover, in 35 years’ time, that number could reach six millions if governments fail to take the necessary measures against air pollution.
According to the study, the most exposed populations are those in developing countries where poverty and industrialization contribute to low air quality. For instance, just in China, pollutants from cooking, heating, and diesel generators lead to 1.36 million deaths. India and other Asian countries currently face the same problem with 50 to 70 percent of premature deaths caused by PM2.5s.
While in other parts of the world fossil fuels and traffic pollution often result in premature deaths, in eastern U.S., Russia, the E.U. and eastern Asia, pesticides and fertilizers used in agribusiness were the main culprits of premature deaths from air pollution.
Jos Lelieveld, PhD, lead author of the study and head of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry’s division of atmospheric chemistry, said that in Australia about 280 people face premature death every year because of air pollutants. But Australia is one of the continents with the cleanest air. Of the 280 premature deaths half are caused by biomass burning emissions, Lelieveld added.
Scientists believe that 1 million people can be saved from early death every year if air pollution is reduced, while 3.54 million people can be saved if they are protected against indoor exposure to pollutants.
The research team thinks that the problem may be solved if countries switch to green energy and fuels. Additionally, governments should take measures to tackle fine particle pollution within their countries’ limits. Even Australia could benefit from such policies despite its good air quality.
Dr. Adrian Barnett at Queensland University of Technology said that the study’s results face limitations because researchers didn’t take into account traffic pollution which is the main source of air pollution on the continent. So, the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution may be underestimated.
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