Air pollution more deadly than smoking, says report

Scientists found dirty air kills 8.8m people worldwide each year

Gloom surrounds the City of London
(Image credit: Peter MacdiarmidGetty Images)

A new study claims that air pollution is now a bigger killer than smoking – causing up to 8.8m deaths a year worldwide. The figure is far higher than the previous estimate of 4.5m.

The researchers, from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, used new data and computer simulations to estimate the health impact of air pollution from sources such as traffic, industry, farming and electricity generation.

Focusing on levels of polluting fine particles, known as PM2.5, and ozone, they found that air pollution caused 64,000 deaths in the UK alone in 2015 - a rate of 98 per 100,000 of the population.

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The i Newspaper points out that this “alarming” rate is nevertheless lower than for many other European countries. Germany had one of the highest death rates in Europe at 154 per 100,000 of the population.

Professor Thomas Münzel is calling on the European Union to cut the annual limit of tiny particulate matter in the air from 25 millionths of a gram per cubic metre to 10 - the level suggested by the World Health Organisation. He says his findings prove the need to move towards cleaner, renewable energy.

“Governments and international agencies must take urgent action to reduce air pollution,” said Professor Münzel. “They should re-evaluate legislation on air quality and lower the EU’s current [air pollution] limits.”

Comparing the pollution death rate with that from smoking, he said: “To put this into perspective… air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking, which the World Health Organisation estimates was responsible for an extra 7.2m deaths in 2015. Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not.”

A spokesman for the British Heart Foundation, told The Sun that the findings “provide further evidence that air pollution significantly increases the risk of premature death from heart and circulatory diseases” and that its impact “may be even greater than we previously thought”.

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