Air pollution kills 1.6 million more people a year globally than smoking, research suggests

Tuesday 12th March 2019 13:00 GMT

By comparison, the World Health Organisation attributed 7.2 million deaths to smoking in 2015.

More than 64,000 deaths in the UK were thought to be linked to air pollution in 2015, including 17,000 cases of heart and artery disease and 29,000 cases of lung disease, cancer and diabetes.

In Europe, researchers believe that air pollution has caused the death of around 790,000 people - twice the previous estimate.

Around 124,000 deaths were linked to air pollution in Germany, with 67,000 in France and 81,000 in Italy.

Experts in Germany and Cyprus estimated air pollution caused 8.8 million extra deaths in 2015 - almost double the previously estimated 4.5 million.

The research attributes the pollution to dirty air - mostly the particles that are emitted by exhausts, power plants and factories.

Microscopic PM 2.5 particles can become lodged in lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing complications, according the researchers.

Europe appears to be worse than the rest of the world, with 133 in 100,000 deaths linked to air pollution on the continent, compared to 120 in 100,000 deaths globally.

One of the research authors, Professor Jos Lelieveld, said the "extra deaths caused by air pollution in Europe is explained by the combination of poor air quality and dense population."

He said countries need to move away from fossil fuels towards "other sources for generating energy" to cut the number of deaths.

Professor Lelieveld said: "When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates in Europe by up to 55%."

The European Union's safety limit for polluted air particles is 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air, which is more than double the 10 micrograms recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Professor Thomas Munzel, who also authored the research, said: "Many other countries, such as Canada, the USA and Australia, use the WHO guideline... The EU is lagging a long way behind in this respect."

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, involved computer simulations of people experiencing both natural and man-made chemicals, alongside new information about population density, disease risk factors and causes of death.

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