Air pollution is bad for your health. But you already knew that. What you probably didn’t know is that there’s a map out there which will tell you how many years of your life you are losing to high particulate pollution. The Air Quality-Life Index (AQLI) is an interactive tool which can tell people how much longer they could live by breathing clean air – one that meets the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of fine particulate matter.
Developed by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the map is based on the data from a pair of studies which were conducted in China to gauge the impact of long-term air pollution on a person’s health. In particular, it builds on the findings that every additional 10 micrograms per cubic meter of PM10 reduces the life expectancy of a person by 0.6 years.
So, if a country like India were to bring its pollution levels into compliance with the global standards, the AQLI suggests people there could live longer for at least 4 years. “Some of the greatest gains would be seen in the country’s largest cities, such as Delhi. There, people could live 6 years longer if the country met its national standards, and 9 years longer if the country met WHO standards,” the study says.
Similarly, if China were to make its air cleaner, its citizens could easily add 3.5 years to their expected lifespan. South Africa and Chile’s efforts to reduce air pollution could result in their people living longer by 1.4 years, while both North and South Koreas could save a couple of life years per person by meeting WHO’s air quality standards.
Michael Greenstone, director at EPIC, explains that the impact of particulates on life expectancy is comparable to someone smoking cigarettes for several decades. Therefore, it is imperative for developing countries mentioned above to take immediate action to combat pollution. “The histories of the United States, parts of Europe, Japan and a handful of other countries teach us that air pollution can be reduced, but it requires robust policy and enforcement,” he says.
See the map here.