Summary: There is a link between air pollution and our health. There are both direct and indirect impacts on health and our bodies are affected in ways that we are beginning to understand. We look at how it impacts our skin, eyes, respiratory disease, lung cancer, cardiac incidence, dementia, breast cancer, fertility and childbirth.
Why this is important: Global excess mortality from all ambient air pollution was between 7.11 and 10.41 million per year. In addition it was estimated to lower life expectancy by between 2.3 and 3.5 years - more than from smoking tobacco.
The big theme: Air quality in general, and pollution in particular, have various significant investment and decision-making implications. Air pollution can be both naturally occurring or produced by human activity. Decreasing pollution with the aim of reducing human illness and suffering should be a goal unto itself. In practice it is also important to consider how such initiatives, that more often than not increase costs and dig into profits, will be beneficial to business and society in the long run, whether it be through decreased healthcare costs, increased health and productivity of the workforce, and reputational gains for such decisions.
The link between ambient air pollution and life expectancy has been well documented. For example, in a 2020 study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry it was estimated that global excess mortality from all ambient air pollution was between 7.11 and 10.41 million per year. In addition it was estimated to lower life expectancy by between 2.3 and 3.5 years - more than from smoking tobacco.
It is also clear that we, or at least the authorities, can take actions to reduce air pollution, improve air quality and ultimately reduce that mortality.
Air quality in Beijing had been the biggest concern for the International Olympic Committee during the bidding process for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and so the authorities in Beijing put in place stringent policies to reduce local and regional emissions in the Beijing metropolitan area including reducing traffic, shutting down polluting factories and suspending large-scale construction projects. The result? Monthly PM10 concentrations in Beijing dropped by roughly 30%.