The average person living in Europe loses two years of their life to the health effects of breathing polluted air, according to a report published in the European Heart Journal on March 12, quoted by the World Economic Forum.
The report also estimates about 800,000 people die prematurely in Europe per year due to air pollution, or roughly 17% of the 5 million deaths in Europe annually. Many of those deaths, between 40 and 80% of the total, are due to air pollution effects that have nothing to do with the respiratory system but rather are attributable to heart disease and strokes caused by air pollutants in the bloodstream, the researchers write.
“Chronic exposure to enhanced levels of fine particle matter impairs vascular function, which can lead to myocardial infarction, arterial hypertension, stroke, and heart failure,” the researchers write.
Their estimate more than doubles the World Health Organization’s previous estimate of early deaths due to air pollution.
The researchers note that the air pollution, which is caused by burning fossil fuels, could be quickly alleviated by switching to clean and renewable energy sources. That switch would “substantially reduce the loss of life expectancy from air pollution,” they write.
Previous reports estimated that air pollution takes one year off the average global lifespan, and that lowering it just enough to match levels recommended by the World Health Organization would be the equivalent of globally eradicating breast and lung cancer in terms of life spans. Air pollution has been spiking globally, rising 8% in just the last five years alone.