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Air pollution killing almost as many people as smoking in Britain

14 March 2019

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.

When they looked at individual countries, the researchers found that air pollution caused an excess death rate of 154 per 100,000 in Germany (a reduction of 2.4 years in life expectancy); 136 in Italy (reduction in life expectancy of 1.9 years); 150 in Poland (reduction in life expectancy of 2.8 years); 98 in the United Kingdom (reduction in life expectancy of 1.5 years); and 105 in France (reduction in life expectancy of 1.6 years).

The 2017 Global Burden of Diseases study found that PM2.2.5 and ozone pollution caused some 4.5 million deaths in 2015, while European Environment Agency estimates, also based on 2015 data, calculated 422,000 premature deaths - due to all forms of air pollution - in the European Union.

Air pollution has caused the death of 8.8 million people in 2015 - nearly double the previous estimate of 4.5 million, according to researchers from Germany and Cyprus.

In Europe alone, researchers put the excess death toll at 790,000 - twice the previous estimate.

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"This is explained by the combination of poor air quality and dense population, which leads to exposure that is among the highest in the world", said lead author Jos Lelieveld, a researcher at the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry, also in Mainz.

Cases of lung and cardiovascular disease were mainly caused by microscopic "PM 2.5" particles that become lodged in lungs and enter the bloodstream, said the researchers.

The new study "suggests earlier models underestimated the cardiovascular risk associated with air pollution, and we tend to agree", said Holly Shiels, a researcher in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Manchester.

This included information on population density, geographical locations, ages, risk factors for several diseases and causes of death.

Europe seems to be more terrible than the other countries of the world, with 133 of every 100,000 deaths related to air pollution, as compared to 120 out of 100,000 deaths internationally. This is higher than the planet-wide findings of an additional 120 deaths per year per 100,000 inhabitants. Although air pollution in eastern Europe is not much worse than in western Europe, the number of excess deaths it caused was higher.

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They urged a reduction in the upper limit for PM2.5 in the European Union, which is now set at 25 micrograms per cubic meter, 2.5 times higher than the World Health Organization guideline. Even at this level, several European countries regularly exceed the limit. Between 40 percent to 80 percent of those deaths came from either heart attacks or strokes.

Prof Munzel added: "The number of deaths from cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to air pollution is much higher than expected".

Fine dust particles in the air are particularly unsafe to health because they penetrate deep into the lungs and may even pass into the bloodstream.

In the latest study, researchers urged world leaders to act swiftly to reduce air pollution, re-evaluate related legislation and switch to clean and renewable energy sources.

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Air pollution killing almost as many people as smoking in Britain