Photo: Dominique Faget Agence France-Presse
Indian walk in thick smog in Gurgaon on march 7, 2019, a day after it was placed at the head of a report on the most polluted cities in the world to 2018.
Air pollution could be two times more deadly than what we thought : a study published Tuesday, the judge in charge of nearly 8.8 million deaths per year worldwide, of which approximately 800 000 in Europe.
Between 40 % and 80 % of these premature deaths are due to cardiovascular disease, say the researchers, who publish their work in the journal European Heart Journal.
“This means that air pollution kills more people each year than tobacco, responsible for 7.2 million deaths in 2015, according to the world health Organization (WHO),” said one of the authors, professor Thomas Münzel, university of Mainz (Germany).
“You can avoid smoking, but you can’t avoid being subjected to air pollution “, he added.
The researchers estimate that 790 000 the number of deaths due to air pollution in 2015 for the whole of Europe. This estimate is significantly higher than that of the european environment Agency (EEA).
In its annual report published in October, it was found that the pollution of the air with very fine particles (PM2,5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2, which is emitted by diesel engines) and ozone (O3) was responsible in 2015 518 000 premature deaths in 41 countries in Europe.
The study, published Tuesday, is devoted mainly to the Europe, but its authors also applied their method of calculation to the entire world.
They arrive at the staggering 8.8 million deaths caused by air pollution in 2015 on the whole of the planet, of which 2.8 million in China. Previous works were rather the global total to 4.5 million.
A new statistical tool
To revise these figures, the German researchers used a new statistical tool.
They estimated exposure to pollutants based on a model that simulates how the atmospheric gases interact with the chemical compounds from human activity (energy production, industry, transport, agriculture…).
They have applied these data to a new statistical model combining mortality rates and exposure.
“We have used new analyses of risk, based on epidemiological data is much larger than before, and from 16 countries “, indicated to the AFP the one of the scientists, Jos Lelieveld.
Europe strongly affected
On average, the excess mortality worldwide, attributed to the pollution of the air by this study is 120 deaths per year per 100 000 inhabitants. This rate is higher in Europe (133), although the controls are more stringent than in other regions.
“This is explained by the combination of a poor air quality and high population density, which results in an exposure that is among the highest in the world “, according to professor Lelieveld.
Eastern Europe is particularly affected, with 36 000 deaths per year in the case of Romania, or 76 000 for Ukraine, either of the rates above 200 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants.
For Germany, the rate is 154 deaths per 100 000 population, compared with 98 in the United Kingdom or 105 in France.
The authors of the study consider it “urgent” to lower the thresholds of exposure to fine particles.
The maximum annual average for PM2,5 established by the european Union is 25 micrograms per cubic meter, which is 2.5 times more than the WHO recommendations.
“To the extent that most of the fine particles and other air pollutants in Europe comes from the combustion of fossil fuels, there is an urgent need to switch to other energy sources,” argued the professor Lelieveld.
These works seem to show that the cardiovascular risk linked to the pollution of the air has been under-estimated, and this finding seems to me to be relevant, ” said a scientist who was not involved in the study, dr. Holly Shiels, University of Manchester.
“Previously, we focused on the risk of cancer related to the pollution of the air or the immediate effects on the respiratory system. Now, we understand better the link with heart problems, the effects on the brain or the reproductive issues “, said to AFP the patron of the EEA, Hans Bruyninckx, in a maintenance independent of the publication of the study.