Most Indian cities have become unliveable thanks to catastrophically high levels of air pollution across the country. While the toll this takes on public health is broadly understood, research has hitherto been lacking on the link between air pollution and shorter lifespans.
A new study by researchers at the University of Texas has given a clearer idea of the toll air pollution takes in this regard. The researchers studied PM2.5 pollution – defined as atmospheric pollution of particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres – and found that exposure to it reduces average life expectancy by a year worldwide.
In India, the toll is worse. Exposure to air pollution shears 1.53 years off of life expectancy. The study estimates that life expectancy could be extended by between 0.8 and 1.4 years in India if pollution levels were reduced.
“For much of Asia, if air pollution were removed as a risk for death, 60-year-olds would have a 15 per cent to 20 per cent higher chance of living to age 85 or older,” says Joshua Apte, the study’s lead researcher.
“Exposure to air pollution shears 1.53 years off of life expectancy. The study estimates that life expectancy could be extended by between 0.8 and 1.4 years in India if pollution levels were reduced.”
India was ranked the worst country in the world in terms of environmental health earlier this year, in a report which identified air quality as ‘the leading environmental threat to public health.’ As India has industrialised and urbanised as a rapid pace in the past few decades, it is polluting more – and this is taking its toll not only on the health of the country’s ecosystems, but also on its citizens.
India is home to the fourteen most polluted cities in the world. The list named Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh the world’s most polluted city in terms of PM2.5 pollution and Delhi the most polluted megacity, measured in terms of PM10 pollution (atmospheric pollution of coarse particles with a diameter between 2.5 and ten micrometres).
Inhaling this matter is injurious to public health, magnifying the risk of a plethora of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Its effect is felt not only in urban areas but also in rural communities, which account for 75 percent of pollution-related deaths in India.
The study clearly shows the risk air pollution poses to the health and longevity of Indians. It lends yet another impetus for decisive action to be taken against what is rapidly emerging as the country’s dominant public health menace.
The study can be accessed here.