Air pollution

Globally, more than 3.2 million premature deaths per year are attributed to due to exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5). A new study estimates that 2.1 million premature deaths could be avoided if countries achieved the WHO guideline for PM2.5. Even by meeting their closest WHO interim concentration targets could avoid 750 000 (23%) deaths attributed to PM2.5 per year.


As well as contributing to the greenhouse effect, aircraft emissions have an important impact on air quality and human health. This study, which quantified the effect of civil aviation emissions across the globe, suggests they could be responsible for 16 000 premature deaths every year, at an annual cost of over €18 billion. The air quality costs of aviation were similar to its climate costs, and over 10 times larger than accident and noise costs.

This year, environment correspondent John Vidal had heart bypass surgery – a wake-up call that prompted him to investigate the state of the air we breathe. With 29,000 UK deaths a year attributed to pollution, is it time we cleaned up our act?  

Three months ago, a surgeon at Liverpool Heart and Chest hospital took a saw, ripped through my sternum, levered open my ribcage, cut into the aorta of my still-beating heart and stitched in a vein from my leg. The long, brutal operation was a great success. But it knocked me out and left me unable to walk more than a few paces.

Exposure to gaseous and particulate matter pollution have been found to increase the immediate risk of stroke, a review of medical studies has shown. The increased risk is most pronounced the same day as the exposure, and for fine particles the increased risk persists over several days. The authors hope information from this study will help policymakers to develop suitable controls to limit the risks posed by these harmful air pollutants.