SALT LAKE CITY — A new study shows prolonged exposure to fine particulate air pollution around the globe is on average shaving nearly two years off a person's life expectancy.
It's worse depending on where you live, such as India, where life expectancy is 4.3 years lower than if the country's air met standards set by the World Health Organization.
The analysis done by the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute found the greatest external threat to life expectancy of people is prolonged exposure to air pollution — with larger impacts than AIDS, cigarette smoking, war or terrorism.
Chief sources of global air pollution that are above standards set by the World Health Organization — 10 micrograms per cubic meter — are energy production such as the burning of coal or wood by households, power plants, vehicles and other human activity.
The study used satellite imagery for the Air Quality Life Index, which mapped fine particulate pollution and its impacts on life expectancy. It focused on PM2.5 exposure, which are particles that are just 3 percent the diameter of a human air. Those particles enter the lungs and get into the blood stream, inflaming and constricting blood vessels. Over time, they can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Recent studies, too, suggest the fine particulate pollution is correlated with lower cognitive function, with implications related to dementia and Alzheimer's.
The study showed that 75 percent of the global population, or 5.5 billion people, live in areas where fine particulate pollution exceeds the threshold set by the World Health Organization.
If today's global pollution persists, the world's population will lose a total of 12.8 billion years of life, the study notes.
The good news is areas of the globe where pollution has been greatly diminished over the decades.
While Los Angeles used to be known as the smog capital of the world, fine particulate pollution has decreased there by nearly 40 percent since 1970, when the Clean Air Act established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
By 1980, the nation saw a 50 percent decrease in fine particulate pollution, according to the study.
"Residents of New York have gained more than two years on average, residents of Chicago two years, and residents of Washington, DC have gained almost three years. With 49 million people currently living in these four metropolitan areas, the total gains in life expectancy add up quickly," the study says.
Mobile, Alabama, where residents in 1970 could expect to lose four years of their life due to pollution, has seen its pollution drop by 84 percent, with virtually no threat to life expectancy under the World Health Organization threshold.1 comment on this story
"About 213 million people currently live in U.S. areas monitored for particulates in 1970 and today. On average, these people can expect to live an additional 1.5 years due to cleaner air alone, for a total gain of about 325 million life-years."
The World Health Organization estimates that global pollution in both rural and urban areas caused 4.2 million premature deaths in 2016.
In areas of the United States where there is prolonged exposure levels above 10 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate pollution, the study says people's expectancy is shaved by about a year.
Areas along Utah's Wasatch Front experience episodic instances of pollution spikes above those levels during inversions.