Milan's Duomo Cathedral in Italy is barely visible through smog that hovers over the city on Dec. 29. 2015. The lack of rain and wind has brought pollution in Italy's business capital to exceed levels considered healthy for more than 30 straight days. (Antonio Calanni/Associated Press)

Air pollution- a silent pandemic

As the world fights a battle with the Covid-19 virus, researchers point out that deaths from air pollution constitute a lesser realised but very serious chronic threat worse than most diseases.

Researchers estimate that some 8.8 million premature deaths annually are due to air pollution. The study says the loss of life expectancy (LLE) exceeds that of tobacco smoking.

Breaking it down further, they say that about 75 per cent of that figure is due to human-generated pollution, or some 5.5 million deaths.

Dr Courtney Howard (M.D.)  is president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment


A study in Lancet in April 2011 showed that some 20 per cent of new cases of asthma in children in the big urban centre of Toronto was related to air pollution from vehicle traffic

The studies suggest air pollution can shorten lifespans by up to three years.

Dr. Courtney Howard (MD, CCFP-EM) is president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and an emergency room doctor in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. She notes that climate change is bringing new animals and insects into the north where they’ve never been seen before, along with their new pathogens, some of which have the possibility of transfer to humans ( Pat Kane)

Dr Howard notes that not only is air pollution a worldwide health issue for individuals, but negatively affects the economy through increased hospital visits and medical resource requirements and through loss of workdays as adults are off work, or have to take time off to care for children who are ill.

Haze in the city of Montreal under a smog alert Dec. 2019. Residents of Canadian cities are not exempt from air pollution, with Toronto often registering as having one of the higher rates of childhood asthma (CBC)

She points out that as these tiny particulates are so small they cross over into the bloodstream where the can influence inflammation with resultant issues of heart disease, lung infections, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

She says the news of the direct health affects of air pollution should help raise awareness of situation she says we as humans have the ability to control and add to the concern about air pollution’s affect on climate.

Additional information-sources

NOTE: updated March 10: the original article said the data was from the World Health Organisation, In fact it came from a study based on WHO information. The study was published in the science journal Cardiovascular Research March 3. 2020 entitled “Loss of life expectancy from air pollution compared to other risk factors: a worldwide perspective” Jos Lelieveld et al. 

Categories: Environment & Animal Life, Health, International
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