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Two billion life years could be saved if India tackles toxic air, MIT economist argues

Date
03 April 2014
Two billion life years could be saved if India tackles toxic air, MIT economist argues

NEW DELHI: Today 628 million Indian people are living in highly polluted districts which fail to meet national air quality standards and pose considerable risk to human health, American economist Michael Greenstone has confirmed.

Speaking at the 'Shorter Lives Due to Air Pollution' at the Public Health Foundation of India Foundation Day conference on March 28, the MIT academic argued that each person who resides in the 281 areas could live 3.3 years longer if the toxic air was tackled.

By Greenstone’s calculations this would mean up to two billion life years could be saved if the areas which were notable for excessive air pollution were brought in line with national standards.

Drawing on data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and other research papers, Greenstone acknowledged that that 52% of Indian citizens are living in areas assessed by the CPCB where PM 2.5 (very fine respirable particles) level is above the safe standard.

Furthermore, 80% of the population resides in locations where PM 10 (coarse particles) levels exceed the safe standard

Dr. Greenstone’s analysis comes just after the UN released a report stating that air pollution is now the world’s greatest environmental health threat. In 2012 one in eight people died prematurely due to this avoidable health risk.

Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, cautioned: “The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.” 

Jarnail Singh, India Programme Manager, The Climate Group, commented: "Pollution is a serious concern for India. As well as being a barrier to economic progress, it is also leading to a loss of life which is both unnecessary and inexcusable. At present, 60% of India's electricity comes from coal which is a key contributing factor to air pollution. If India scales up investment in renewable energies such as solar we could mitigate future health risks caused by toxic air, while also ensuring we have a clean sustainable power source to drive the economy forward."

Image: Flickr/Lingaraj G J

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By Alana Ryan

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