High pollution cutting lifespan of Indians by 3.2 years: Study

21 Feb 2015


A new study reveals as many as 660 million people (or half of India's population) could look to increasing their lifespan by 3.2 years, if air quality met the national safety standard. In other words, compliance with standards could save up to 2.1 billion life-years in India.

The study authored by Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) and leading economists and public policy experts from Yale and Harvard University, considered air quality data across different parts of the country from pollution control boards and satellite data.

The study which used 2011 census data estimated that 660 million people (54.5 per cent of the population) lived in regions that did not meet the annual PM 2.5 (fine, respirable pollution particles) standard of 40 microgramme per cubic metre, and 262 million people (21.7 per cent of the population) lived in regions with air pollution levels more than twice this standard. Also 99.5 per cent of India's population (1,204 million people) lived in an area with PM 2.5 pollution above the World Health Organisation's 10 microgramme per cubic metre guideline.

The authors had considered several scientific studies from different parts of the world that demonstrated a link between particulate pollution and mortality rates.

''India's focus is necessarily on growth. However, for too long, the conventional definition of growth has ignored the health consequences of air pollution,'' said Michael Greenstone.

''This study demonstrates that air pollution retards growth by causing people to die prematurely. Other studies have also shown that air pollution reduces productivity at work, increases the incidence of sick days, and raises health care expenses that could be devoted to other goods.''

The new figures come after the WHO estimates showed of the 20 most polluted cities in the world 13 were in India, while another showed air pollution killed around 7 million people worldwide every year (See: Air pollution kills 7 mn worldwide annually: WHO). 

According to Rohinin Pande, also an author and director of EPIC, the loss of over 2 billion life years was a a substantial price to pay for air pollution.

She added, it was in India's power to change this in cost effective ways that allowed hundreds of millions of its citizens to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

She said reforms of the current form of regulation would allow for health improvements that led to increased growth.

In June an  epidemiologic study published in the medical journal Heart showed a new link between particulate matter in the atmosphere and heart diseases, like irregular heartbeat and lung blood clots (New study links heart diseases directly with air pollution)

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