Health

Reducing air pollutants bigger benefit than curing breast cancer

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Cleaning up the air we breathe—and especially in polluted regions of India and China—would have a bigger impact on improving health and longevity than finding a cure for breast and lung cancer, a new research study claims.

Poor air quality cuts a year off our lives—although that is a general and global figure, and it's shortening the lives of those in polluted Asian areas far more dramatically than it is in North America or Europe, where there are stricter controls.

 

In real terms, air pollution is responsible for around 90,000 premature deaths in America and 1.1 million deaths in India every year.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin measured air pollution—specifically particulate matter (PM) smaller than 2.5 microns, which increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and cancer—in 185 countries. PM2.5

pollution comes from power plants, cars and trucks, fires, and agricultural and industrial emissions.

Although the impact of air pollution on health is well known, the researchers are the first to calculate its impact on longevity. Creating cleaner air is one of the most significant things we can do to improve health, the researchers say, and "it's considerably larger than the benefit in survival we might see if we found cures for both lung and breast cancer combined," said researcher Joshua Apte.

This would have special impact in polluted countries such as India and China, where a 60-year-old's chances of living to 85 or older increase by up to 20 per cent if the air was cleaner, the researchers estimate.

(Source: Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 2018; doi: 10.1021/acs.estlett.8b00360)

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