- Air pollution causes an early death rate of 5.5 million people worldwide, with the problem being significantly noticeable in China and India.
- Industrial facilities, power plants, burning wood and coal, and vehicle emissions are main contributors to air pollution, with current measures to minimize emissions deemed insufficient.
- China and India account for 55 percent of air pollution-induced deaths globally, due in China primarily to coal burning, and in India to the burning of wood, dung, and other organic materials for domestic use.
- Efforts have successfully reduced air pollution levels in North America, Western Europe, and Japan through adopting cleaner fuels, increasing vehicle efficiency, and implementing restrictions on power plants and factories.
- Applying such extensive changes proves challenging for developing nations; these changes would provide a roadmap for actions that would greatly improve public health.
The problem of air pollution is a universal one, claiming millions of lives prematurely every year. Shockingly, this equates to a staggering 5.5 million casualties worldwide. The scale of the issue is particularly prominent in China and India – two countries experiencing rapid economic growth, where over half of these early deaths occur.
The Sources and Dangers of Air Pollution
Power plants and industrial facilities are primary culprits, discharging minuscule particles into the air, promoting adverse effects on human health. These particles also result from burning coal and wood, as well as the exhaust emissions from automobiles and other vehicles. There is a growing consensus among experts that the current measures taken to minimize these emissions are severely insufficient. Additional precautions must be implemented to prevent the escalation in the amount of early deaths associated with air pollution in the next two decades.
“Air pollution holds the rank of the fourth highest risk factor for death worldwide and is unquestionably the most significant environmental risk factor for disease.” This alarming statement comes from Michael Brauer, a revered professor within the field of population and public health at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “Enhancing efforts to reduce air pollution is a highly effective method to ameliorate the overall health of our society,” he stated.
Effects of Air Pollution in China and India
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the issue, researchers from the United States, Canada, China, and India conducted an investigation into the air pollution levels in China and India, further estimating the impact these conditions have on the populace’s health.
These two countries alone constitute 55 percent of air pollution-induced deaths globally. In 2013, China and India, witnessed approximately 1.6 and 1.4 million deaths respectively, as a direct consequence of degraded air quality.
In China, coal burning substantially contributes to air pollution, resulting in 366,000 deaths in 2013 alone as per the estimation by Qiao Ma, a doctoral candidate at Tsinghua University’s School of Environment in Beijing. The grave prediction made by Ma indicates that if China perseveres with its existing air pollution targets and doesn’t take urgent measures to inhibit coal combustion and emissions, the early death rate could reach up to 1.3 million by 2030.
The precarious air quality in India is predominantly caused by burning wood, dung, and other organic materials for household cooking and heating, leading to high levels of particulate matter. “India requires a systematic approach to address the burning of industrial coal, open burning for agriculture, and domestic air pollution sources,” said Chandra Venkataraman, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai.
Progress and Future Needs
Over time, regions like North America, Western Europe, and Japan have succeeded in significantly reducing their air pollution levels through the adoption of cleaner fuels, increased vehicle efficiency, curtailed coal combustion and imposed restrictions on electric power plants and factories.
However, implementing such drastic changes is a monumental task for developing nations, as stated by Dan Greenbaum, president of a nonprofit organization based in Boston. Greenbaum advocates this research as it provides a roadmap by distinguishing the actions that will most strongly improve public health.
The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. posed as the common platform for disclosing these research findings. Typically, such research is considered preliminary due to the lack of the same level of scrutiny applicable to published journals.
Interested in more information about the harmful effects of air pollution? Feel free to visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s webpage on the health effects of air pollution.