Air pollution: India has the highest annual average exposure to PM2.5, finds global study

India leads the list of countries with the highest annual average exposures to PM 2.5- fine particulate matter hazardous to health- and the third highest average ozone exposures in the world, with a 17% increase in the last decade.

Agencies
Also, as restrictions have lifted, emissions have risen— quickly erasing any gains in air quality.
A new global study, State of Global Air 2020 (SoGA 2020)-- puts India at the top of the tally on some worrying air pollution parameters.

India leads the list of countries with the highest annual average exposures to PM 2.5- fine particulate matter hazardous to health- and the third highest average ozone exposures in the world, with a 17% increase in the last decade.

Hugely worrying health impact data follows with the report estimating that Air Pollution Contributes to more than 116,000 Infant Deaths in India and a total 1.67 Million Deaths are linked to Air Pollution- now said to be the highest health risk in India.


The silver lining so far- India has seen significant progress in reducing household Air Pollution exposure over the last decade with significant gains made through the current government’s Ujjwala yojana.

What is SOGA 2020---

The State of Global Air 2020 annual report has been brought out by the US based Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and the University of British Columbia. Its findings are based on the most recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD3) Study published in the international medical journal, The Lancet on October 15, 2020.
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Key takeaways from SOGA 2020:

  • Overall, air pollution is now the largest risk factor for early death among all health risks in India and globally- with its total impact exceeded only by high blood pressure , tobacco use, and dietary risks.

  • In 2019, air pollution is estimated to have contributed to 6.67 million deaths across the world.

  • India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal feature among the top ten countries with the highest PM2.5 exposures in 2019; all of these countries experienced increases in outdoor PM2.5 levels between 2010 and 2019.

  • In Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, 100% of the population lives in areas where PM 2.5 levels are higher than the WHO Air Quality Guideline; in Nepal, 98% of the population lives in such areas.

  • Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases, in India in 2019.

  • Together, India and China account for 58% of worldwide deaths attributed to PM2.5 in 2019. Both countries have registered a 61% and 20% increase respectively in PM 2.5 attributable deaths over the last decade.

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  • Global ozone exposures vary from a low of about 12.2 ppb to a high of 67.2 ppb. India is at the third place on the list at 66.2 ppb, just below Qatar and Nepal in 2019.

  • India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have also seen some of the greatest increases in Ozone exposure with India seeing the levels rise by 17% — from 56.5 ppb in 2010 to 66.2 ppb in 2019.

  • The highest age-standardized rates of death attributable to ozone occurred in countries in Asia — India (18/100,000), Pakistan (14/100,000), and Bangladesh (8.8/100,000) compared with 4.7/100,000 globally. China’s rate was lower at 5.9/100,000.

  • However, India and China, with their large populations, had the highest overall numbers of ozone-attributable deaths worldwide, with 168,000 deaths occurring in India and 93,300 occurring in China.

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  • GBD estimated that 476,000 newborns worldwide died in 2019 as a result of exposure to air pollution.

  • It is estimated that Air Pollution Contributed to 46% of infant deaths--more than 116,000 Infant Deaths in India in 2019. The figure is 62% and 60% respectively for Bangladesh and Nepal.

  • Silver linings---Use of solid fuels for cooking has seen a dip. Exposure to household air pollution due to use of solid fuels for cooking has reduced in South Asia since 2010 (73% in 2010 to 61% in 2019). In India, it has reduced from 73% in 2010 to 61% in 2019.The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Household LPG program and other schemes have helped to dramatically expand access to clean energy, especially for rural households. This is significant as the largest declines in the burden of disease from air pollution stem from reductions in exposure to household air pollution.

  • China at it- Between 2010 and 2019, outdoor PM2.5 levels in China decreased by 30%, largely due to actions undertaken in the past 5 to 7 years, including a shift from coal to gas in residential and industrial sectors and a reduction in industrial emissions. China is among the eight countries that saw a reduction in ozone levels over the past decade, ranging from a 1.6 ppb drop in Japan to a 6.8 ppb drop in China. China has also brought down its household air pollution level from 54% to 36% over the decade – the biggest decrease in the world. It has also shown a 36% decline in Ozone attributable deaths.

  • COVID 19 Caution- Although the full links between air pollution and COVID-19 are not yet known, there is clear evidence linking air pollution and increased heart and lung disease creating a growing concern that exposures to high levels of air pollution, during winter months in South Asian countries and East Asia, could exacerbate the effects of COVID-19, cautions SOGA 2020.

Also, as restrictions have lifted, emissions have risen— quickly erasing any gains in air quality. Since air pollution’s most substantial health burdens arise from chronic, long-term exposure, COVID-19 has offered only a temporary respite from air pollution
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