Air pollution is more lethal than previously estimated. A study published in the European Heart Journal doubles the current estimate of the number of premature deaths producedor the air pollution in the world: increases the current 4.5 million to 8.8. With these new calculations, the pollution would be more lethal than tobacco, which causes seven million deaths per year, according to WHO. In Europe would occur, adds the study, 790,000 deaths of this type throughout the territory and 659,000 in EU of 28. Of this total, between 40 and 80% would be due to vascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes. This risk factor assumes that the average life expectancy of Europeans is reduced by more than two years.
The method used simulates the atmospheric chemical processes and the way they interact with the land, the sea and the chemical products emitted by natural and artificial sources, such as energy generation, industry, traffic and agriculture. The scientists applied a new model of global exposure and mortality rates to these data, in addition to WHO data on population density, geographical locations, ages, risk factors of various diseases and causes of death.
Across the world, air pollution is responsible for 120 premature deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year. Europe exceeds this ratio, reaching 133 deaths, due to a combination of poor air quality coupled with a dense population, "which leads to an exhibition that is among the highest in the world," explains Jos Lelieveld, one of the authors of the study of the Max-Plank Institute of Chemistry in Mainz.
The research shows mortality rates "particularly high in the countries of Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Ukraine, with more than 200 per year per 100,000 inhabitants", despite the fact that the quality of the air they breathe "is not much worse than in Western Europe. " The researchers point to less advanced medical care and a generally lower life expectancy. In that more developed Europe, Germany reaps the worst result with 154 deaths, which implies a 2.4-year reduction in life expectancy; followed by Italy with 136; Poland with 150; France with 105 and United Kingdom with 98.
The researchers point out that the most harmful substances are the microparticles known as PM 2.5 (solid or liquid particles of dust, ash, soot, metal, cement or pollen, dispersed in the atmosphere, with a diameter of between 10 and 2.5 microns. diameter or smaller). With these perspectives, scientists consider it essential to reduce the annual limits allowed by Europe, 25 micrograms per cubic meter, and to take those of the World Health Organization (WHO) as a reference of 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
Professor Thomas Münzel, co-author of the study of the Department of Cardiology at the University Center of Mainz, recalls in a statement that air pollution "causes damage to blood vessels" which leads to "an increase in blood pressure, diabetes, stroke cerebral, heart attacks and heart failure ". In Europe, most of the pollutants come from the burning of fossil fuels. The solution, therefore, would be to switch to renewable energy sources "urgently".
Spain has experience in this type of episodes. Ecologistas en Acción denounced last February that for several consecutive days the legal limits for particles were exceeded in at least 26 municipalities, due to the anticyclone, the intrusion of an African air mass and the lack of adequate protocols in cities to reduce the traffic.
José Luis Palma, vice president of the Spanish Heart Foundation, warns that these are very difficult figures to calculate in an exact or very strict way. "The usual variables are based on hospital admissions, deaths from cardiovascular diseases, among others, that is, on data that are known, in this case, researchers create a model with variables that have a very wide margin," he said. What he has no doubt about is the damage caused by air pollution in people's health.