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New Index finds air pollution reduces global life expectancy by nearly 2 years

The Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chcago: “Particulate matter (PM) air pollution is the most deadly form of air pollution globally. Its microscopic particles penetrate deep into the lungs, bypassing the body’s natural defenses. From there it can enter the bloodstream, causing lung disease, cancer, strokes, and heart attacks. There is also evidence of detrimental effects on cognition. Yet, in spite of these risks, the relationship between particulate matter air pollution levels and human health is not widely comprehended by society at large. For most people, their only insight into particulate air pollution exposure and risk is the popular Air Quality Index, which uses a color-coded system to provide a normative assessment of daily air quality. But these colors do little to convey actual health risk, and are often accompanied by measurements of units that are unfamiliar to almost everyone (e.g., micrograms of pollution per cubic meter).

The Air Quality Life Index, or AQLI, represents a completely novel advancement in measuring and communicating the health risks posed by particulate matter air pollution. This is because the AQLI converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy. The AQLI reveals that, averaged across all women, men, and children globally, particulate matter air pollution cuts global life expectancy short by nearly 2 years relative to what they would be if particulate concentrations everywhere were at the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). This life expectancy loss makes particulate pollution more devastating than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.

Some areas of the world are impacted more than others. For example, in the United States, where there is less pollution, life expectancy is cut short by just 0.1 years relative to the WHO guideline. In China and India, where there are much greater levels of pollution, bringing particulate concentrations down to the WHO guideline would increase average life expectancy by 2.9 and 4.3 years, respectively..”

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