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Poor air quality isn’t just a nuisance — it can actually kill you. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill estimates that 2 million people lose their lives each year as a result of bad air. The main culprit responsible for heart disease, respiratory problems, and cancer seems to be the amount of particulate matter released as a result of human activity. The study also linked 470,000 deaths annually to ozone that forms when chemicals from factories mingle and react with one another.
A majority of the deaths occur in South and East Asia where the population is dense and the pollution levels are high. Although previous studies have suggested that climate change can make air pollution worse, the new study claims that global warming plays a small role in deaths. Temperature and humidity can influence the reaction rates of particulate matter, and rainfall may affect accumulation of pollutants. Yet, in their analysis, the researchers found that only 1,500 deaths were the result of ozone and 2,200 from particulate matter when they factored in the variables of climate change.
To come to this conclusion, the scientists looked at global climate models from 1850 and 2000. By scrutinizing these two years, they were able to see how much pollution was due to industrialization. They then combined this information with past studies on air pollution and health.
To improve air quality, some governments are aiming to reduce emissions from factories and coal fire plants, and individuals have resorted to personal filters and homemade contraptions. If the globe is to achieve a cleaner environment for its metropolises, swift action towards finding clean sources for electricity and tightening factory emission standards would go a long way to extending the lives of its inhabitants.