Improved air quality and global health

(with Julian Marshall, Aaron Cohen, and Michael Brauer)

Ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is the seventh-largest global risk factor for premature mortality, resulting in 3.2 million annual deaths in year-2010. To characterize how improvements in ambient PM air quality could result in improved health worldwide, we develop a high-resolution (10-km) model using data and methods from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study. The model combines fine-scale estimates of ambient PM concentrations with regional-cause specific mortality datasets and non-linear integrated exposure-response functions that describe the relationship between PM2.5 and mortality risks.

Improving outdoor air quality — in clean places and in polluted places alike — could potentially avoid millions of worldwide deaths each year. Meeting the WHO 2.5 air quality guideline concentration of 10 µg per cubic meter globaly could avoid up to 2.1 million annual deaths. One striking finding of this work is that comparatively small improvements in PM in already-clean locations (e.g, reductions of 1-4 µg per cubic meter in the U.S. and Europe) could avoid hundreds of thousands of annual deaths, while achieving comparable benefits in polluted developing countries (e.g., China, India) would require much larger improvements in air quality.  However, the potential health benefits of fully meeting WHO guidelines in China and India would be very large, avoiding roughly 1.4 million premature annual deaths from PM.

Journal article: Apte JS, Marshall JD, Cohen AJ, Brauer M. 2015. Adressing global mortality from PM2.5. Environmental Science & Technology, in press. [open access]

Resources: Press release | High-resolution maps of mortality from PM (PDF, TIFF)