Air pollution contributes significantly to global excess mortality and loss of life expectancy, particularly mortality attributable to cardiovascular disease, a study in Cardiovascular Research suggests.

Researchers used a general circulation model to calculate global exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone pollution. Data were combined with a novel model that predicts mortality based on exposure to pollution in order to estimate disease-specific excess mortality and loss of life expectancy across the world in 2015.  Natural sources, like wildfires and aeolian dust, as well as anthropogenic emissions, including fossil fuels, were distinguished within the model, and the effects of these sources were determined.

The researchers estimated that global excess mortality from all ambient air pollution is 8.8 million persons per year (95% CI, 7.11-10.41). Additionally, they estimated loss of life expectancy from all ambient air pollution is 2.9 years (95% CI, 2.3-3.5). According to these data, the excess mortality and loss of life expectancy from ambient air pollution appear to exceed those of tobacco smoking. By removing fossil fuel emissions and all potentially controllable anthropogenic emissions, the researchers suggest that the global mean life expectancy would increase by 1.1 (95% CI, 0.9-1.2) years and 1.7 (95% CI, 1.4-2.0) years, respectively. Cardiovascular disease was the most prominent condition in determining excess mortality.

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A limitation of the study included the lack of assessment of different types of specific particles and their direct effects on disease.

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The researchers concluded that removing anthropogenic air pollution emissions can result in “substantial potential for mortality reduction through the improvement of health care, especially in low-income countries.”


Lelieveld J, Pozzer A, Pöschl U, et al. Loss of life expectancy from air pollution compared to other risk factors: A worldwide perspective [published online March 3, 2020]. Cardiovasc Res. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvaa025.