Cutting through the smog: How air pollution shortens your life

2019-04-04 04:08:02

Getty Images By Nic Fleming Figuring out how many deaths air pollution causes is tricky business. The numbers repeatedly quoted in the media mask a great deal of complexity, uncertainty and misunderstanding. First, it’s important to understand that nobody drops dead from walking down a polluted street. Rather, air pollution aggravates other things that are likely to kill you (see “How does pollution affect my health?”). In other words, it won’t kill you but it could cut months off your life. The UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimates that PM2.5 from industrial sources, released at 2008 levels, would shorten the average person’s lifespan by six months. By adding this lost life together, the committee worked out that outdoor air pollution would cause the equivalent of almost 29,000 deaths. COMEAP stressed that PM2.5 was not killing that specific number of people but was instead shortening the lives of many more. Yet even reputable media outlets frequently report that air pollution kills 29,000 per year in the UK. The problems with the statistics go deeper still. COMEAP’s calculations were based on a number of assumptions,