Story at a glance

  • Researchers at the University of Chicago created the Air Quality Life Index, which calculates how the concentration of air pollutants affects life expectancy.
  • According to the September 2021 data, air pollution takes 2.2 years off the average global citizen’s life.
  • Addressing air pollution can reverse the effects and add years back onto the lives of citizens.

A new report has found that air pollution is cutting years off the lives of billions of people.

Researchers at the University of Chicago created the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which calculates how the concentration of air pollutants affects life expectancy. 

According to the September 2021 data, air pollution takes 2.2 years off the average global citizen’s life.

“Air pollution is the greatest external threat to human health on the planet, and that is not widely recognized, or not recognized with the force and vigor that one might expect,” Michael Greenstone, one of the researchers who developed the index, told The Guardian.

But the effects are far more detrimental in areas suffering the worst pollution. 


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In India, where the air pollutant particulate matter concentration is seven times higher than the World Health Organization’s guideline, the average Indian life expectancy is cut by 5.9 years. In some areas of the country, such as in Uttar Pradesh where pollution is even higher, life expectancy is shortened up to 11.1 years.

However, addressing air pollution can reverse the effects and add years back onto the lives of citizens.

In China, a “war against pollution” was launched in 2013. Since then, its particulate pollution has been reduced 29 percent and added an average of 1.5 years back onto the population’s lives.

“Fossil-fuel driven air pollution is a global problem that requires strong policies at every front—including from the world climate negotiators who are meeting in the coming months,” said Ken Lee, director of the AQLI. “The AQLI’s latest data provides leaders and citizens alike with the justification for strong clean air policies in the form of longer lives.”


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Published on Sep 01, 2021