More than 3 million people die each year because of air pollution, and industrial nations have it the worst, because farming is an important factor in smog and soot deaths.
Calculated the most accurate estimates to date, researchers from Saudi Arabia, Germany, Cyprus, and Harvard University have collaborated on a project that sought to determine what caused air pollution. One of the most worrisome conclusions was that – provided nothing changes in trends – the annual death total will double by 2050.
Published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the study is based on computer models and health statistics. Heart attacks and stroke account for roughly three quarters of the deaths, according to senior author Jos Lelieveld with the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.
Experts who didn’t participate in the study concur that the team’s findings are mirrored by other less-detailed pollution death estimates. Jason West, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of North Carolina, said that ambient air pollution causes approximately 6 percent of all premature global deaths. This figure has exceeded any prediction experts might have made 10 years ago.
Air pollution is a powerful killer, taking a larger toll than malaria and HIV combined, Lelieveld added. China holds the infamous record in air pollution fatalities with almost 1.4 million deaths a year, seconded by India with 645,000, and then Pakistan with 110,000.
Not far off comes the United States, ranking seventh highest in deaths caused by air pollution deaths with 54,905 people dying in 2010 from soot and smog. It was surprising to find that agriculture is to blame for 16,221 of those deaths, a cause second only to the 16,929 victims caused by power plants.
The study found that agriculture is the top cause of the soot and smog deaths in a lot of the world’s regions, including all of Europe, the U.S. Northeast, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. On a worldwide average, agriculture has become the number 2 cause with 664,100 deaths; the number 1 cause – causing more than 1 million victims in developing nations – is in-home heating that uses wood and other biofuels.
Finding that agriculture was the largest factor causing soot and smog was definitely a surprise for the researchers who expected that traffic and power plants would be the biggest cause.
According to Allen Robinson, a Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor, great concern comes from the fact that agricultural emissions aren’t regulated. Even though he wasn’t part of it, Robinson hopes the study will bring more attention to the issue, as air pollution generated by farms could be reduced “at relatively low costs.”
Image Source: The Citizen Daily