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expert reaction to study estimating the contribution of outdoor air pollution to global premature deaths

Pollution is a growing or ongoing problem across the world, especially in cities, and a group of scientists have published their work in the journal Nature which attempts to define how many premature deaths are caused by air pollution. They report that outdoor air pollution causes more than 3 million premature deaths per year which predominantly occur in Asia.


Prof. Ian Colbeck, Professor of Environmental Science, University of Essex, said:

“This paper confirms earlier work that over 3 million people die due to exposure to outdoor particulate matter. For the first time the impact of different sources of pollution have been estimated and this highlights the importance of household energy use.

“However it should be noted that 4.3 million deaths (8 every minute), predominantly in developing countries, are attributable to indoor air pollution due to cooking with wood, dung and coal.”


Dr Oliver Wild, atmospheric scientist, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, said:

“For the first time, this study determines how different pollutant sources contribute to early deaths from air pollution exposure.

“Interestingly, it identifies residential energy use as the major source of outdoor air pollution deaths in many countries, even in rapidly-industrialising countries such as China.

“The study really brings home the need for air quality controls to avoid these additional deaths, particularly in heavily populated parts of Asia.

“Even though the UK has low levels of air pollution, other studies show that increased levels of ozone and nitrogen dioxide increase the number of emergency hospital admissions of children with asthma or other respiratory problems. This goes to show the importance of measures like air pollution alerts in this country.”


‘The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale’ by J. Lelieveld et al. published in Nature on Wednesday 16 September 2015. 


Declared interests

Prof. Ian Colbeck: Member of Institute of Physics, Royal Meteorological Society, International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate, Aerosol Society. Grants funding: NERC, EU. Voluntary appointments: Essex Air Quality Consortium.

Dr Oliver Wild: “I think my only relevant interests are (1) my academic position at Lancaster, (2) NERC funding (though not specifically in this area just at the moment), and (3) a visiting scientist position at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”

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