Air Pollution World’s Worst Public Health Threat, Report Says

Air pollution is more likely to take years life off the lifespan of the average human than any other external factor, according to a recent report out of the University of Chicago.

2 minute read

August 31, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Air pollution is visible in the air around high-rise buildings in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

More than 20 million people live in greater Dhaka, Bangladesh. | Friemann / Adobe Stock

Air pollution is the most significant public health threat on the planet, according to the most annual Air Quality Index report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). According to the report, just meeting the World Health organization’s guideline limits for fine particulate pollution would add 2.3 years to the expected lifespan of the average individual.

An article by Issam Ahmed for provides more details from the study, noting that pollution from vehicles, industry, wildfire, and more contributes to lung disease, heart disease, strokes, and cancer.

“Asia and Africa bear the greatest burden yet have some of the weakest infrastructure to deliver citizens timely, accurate data,” writes Ahmed. “They also receive tiny slices of an already small global philanthropic pie.”

Among the countries facing the worst air pollution in the world, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan top the list. The article also notes that China as made significant progress in improving its air quality. “Its air pollution dropped 42.3 percent between 2013 and 2021. If the improvements are sustained, the average Chinese citizen will be able to live 2.2 years longer,” reports Ahmed.

In the United States, wildfires are significantly worsening air quality in parts of the country. “For example, California's historic wildfire season of 2021 saw Plumas County receive an average concentration of fine particulate matter more than five times over the WHO guideline,” according to Ahmed.

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