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Air pollution cuts two years off global average lifespan, says study

Air pollution cuts the average lifespan of people around the globe by almost two years, analysis shows, making it the single greatest threat to human health.

The research looked at the particulate pollution produced by the burning of fossil fuels by vehicles and industry. It found that in many parts of the worst-affected nations – India and China – lifespans were being shortened by six years.

The work combined research on the reduced lifespans caused by long-term exposure to particulates with very detailed pollution maps. The impact of toxic air is greater than that of cigarette smoking or HIV/Aids.

Michael Greenstone, the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, who led the work, said: “While people can stop smoking and take steps to protect themselves from diseases, there is little they can individually do to protect themselves from the air they breathe.

“The [research] tells citizens and policymakers how particulate pollution is affecting them and their communities, and reveals the benefits of policies to reduce particulate pollution.”

The World Health Organization has said 90% of people are exposed to unsafe air, and breathing it in is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.

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