Increased air pollution can cut a human’s lifespan by between 9 and 11 years, almost a decade longer than most previous estimates had calculated at only one or two years.
On average, an increase of pollution particles by 10 micrograms per cubic metre, will kill the population 10 years earlier, according to a formula devised by Professor Mikael Skou Andersen of Aarhus University, Denmark.
In his research, Professor Andersen was attempting to find a definitive way to calculate the effects of air pollution on the economy, as he argues governments won’t act on fossil fuels until they see the monetary cost of premature deaths.
“People are willing to pay a price to reduce risks for dying prematurely, provided we have an understanding of the implications and magnitudes of such risks,” said Professor Andersen.
In order to encourage environmental action Andersen argues that researchers must find a robust way to determine this financial impact globally, as current variations in methodology leaves cost differing “wildly” between Europe and the USA.
In fact, the cost of losing someone to air pollution is three times higher in the USA, estimated to be worth $7.4 million.
However in Europe, because the methodology looks at change in life expectancy (presuming most victims are in their seventies or eighties) it only sees them lose one of two years of life with less financial consequence.
“Many European countries are unable to meet the air pollution standards they have agreed to in the European Union. We need to understand the true impact of long-term exposure to air pollution to develop better informed policies and reduce fossil fuel consumption,” he said.
So in order to work out a more accurate figure, Andersen used a life table of 100,000 people with an age distribution and determined the number of people expected to survive for their remaining lifetime in each group.
The result revealed the average age of an air pollution victim is 78.9 years and their average loss of life expectancy is between nine and eleven years.
Andersen hopes that this information will inform international institutions and policy makers that want to accurately account for deaths caused by air pollution due to fossil fuel consumption.
The World Health Organisation says that 16,355 deaths in the UK are attributable to ambient air pollution, and according to a 2015 King’s College London report, 9,500 of these are in the capital.
It should be noted that these figures are not collaborated across the board and other reports, such as one commissioned by the UK government, say that removing all anthropogenic (human-made) particulate matter air pollution (measured as PM2.5 1) could save the UK population approximately 36.5 million life years over the next 100 years.
Fintan Hurley, lead author on the study, explained the disparity: “It’s not as simple as it seems, but air pollution does kill people, and I do think it’s a fair way of summarising the mortality effect on the population.”