The COVID-19 pandemic underscores more than any time in recent history how important it is to protect public health. Yet, as countries race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, another everyday killer continues to threaten billions of people worldwide: air pollution.
New data from the Air Quality Life Index, which converts particulate air pollution into its impact on life expectancy, reveals that particulate pollution was the greatest risk to human health before COVID-19. And without strong and sustained public policy, it will be after COVID-19.
Conducted by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the analysis finds that particulate pollution cuts global life expectancy by nearly two years.
Working unseen inside the human body, particulate pollution has a more devastating impact on life expectancy than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war. In fact, in areas of Central and West Africa where diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria traditionally grab headlines, particulate pollution poses just as serious a health threat—having a comparable impact on life expectancy.
[China] began a “war against pollution” in 2013. Since then, three-quarters of the world’s reductions in pollution have come from China. The country has reduced particulate pollution by nearly 40%. If these reductions are sustained, Chinese citizens can expect to live about two years longer than they would have prior to their aggressive reforms.