Air pollution killing more people than smoking, say scientists

WHO say around 7 million people die every year of smoking. (AFP/File)
Updated 12 March 2019

Air pollution killing more people than smoking, say scientists

  • Some of the smaller pollution particles may be capable of entering the bloodstream
  • Scientists discovered that one of the smaller particles is actually more harmful than previously thought

LONDON: Air pollution is killing more people every year than smoking, according to research published on Tuesday that called for urgent action to stop burning fossil fuels.
Researchers in Germany and Cyprus estimated that air pollution caused 8.8 million extra deaths in 2015 — almost double the previously estimated 4.5 million.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates smoking kills about 7 million people a year globally.
The researchers found that in Europe — the key focus of the European Society of Cardiology research — air pollution caused an estimated 790,000 deaths, between 40 and 80 percent of them from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke.
“Since most of the particulate matter and other air pollutants in Europe come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources for generating energy urgently,” said co-author Prof. Jos Lelieveld, of the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and the Cyprus Institute Nicosia, Cyprus.
“When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates in Europe by up to 55 percent.”
The study, published in the European Heart Journal, focused on ozone and the smallest pollution particles, known as PM2.5, that are particularly harmful to health as they can penetrate into the lungs and may even be able to cross into the blood.
The researchers said new data indicated the hazardous health impact of PM2.5 — the main cause of respiratory and cardiovascular disease — was much worse than previously thought.
They urged a reduction in the upper limit for PM2.5 in the European Union, which is currently set at 25 micrograms per cubic meter, 2.5 times higher than the WHO guideline.
“In Europe the maximum permissible value ... is much too high,” said Lelieveld and co-author Prof. Thomas Munzel, of the Department of Cardiology of the University Medical Center Mainz in Germany, in a joint statement.
“In the USA, Australia and Canada the WHO guideline is taken as a basis for legislation, which is also needed in the EU.”
Worldwide, air pollution caused 120 extra deaths in every 100,000 people per year, with deaths in parts of Europe at an even higher rate of up to 200 in 100,000.
“To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking,” said Munzel.
“Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not.”


Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

Updated 25 min 49 sec ago

Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

  • Macron has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement regarding Ireland
  • The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints in Ireland

PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of a month of further talks to find a solution to Brexit while ruling out major compromises as he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for talks on Thursday.
Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Macron supported allowing another 30 days to find a solution to the vexed issue of the Irish border which has bedevilled negotiations since 2017.
“We need to try to have a useful month,” Macron said alongside Johnson who insisted that solutions were “readily available” to prevent checkpoints returning in divided Ireland.
But Macron, who admitted he had a reputation as the “hardest in the gang” on Brexit, has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement for Ireland negotiated between the EU and former British premier Theresa May.
At stake is the so-called “backstop,” which is a provision guaranteeing that border checks will not return between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland which is part of Britain.
Johnson considers the backstop to be “anti-democratic” and an affront to British sovereignty because it will require London to keep its regulations aligned with the EU during a transition exit period.
“The technical solutions are readily available (to avoid checkpoints) and they have been discussed at great length,” Johnson said. “You can have trusted trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing.”
The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints which could lead to a return of fighting on the divided island where anti-British violence has claimed thousands of lives.
“I want to be very clear. In the coming month, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that is far from the fundamentals,” Macron said at the Elysee palace in central Paris.
Since Johnson’s ascent to power last month, the chances of a “no deal” Brexit on October 31 have risen, which economists see as likely to wreak economic damage on Britain and the EU.
“The EU and member states need to take the possibility of a ‘no deal’ outcome much more seriously than before,” a senior EU official told reporters in Brussels on Thursday on condition of anonymity.
A French official said on Wednesday that this was becoming the “most likely” scenario.
The Paris visit was the second leg of Johnson’s first foreign trip as prime minister.
On Wednesday, he was in Berlin for talks with Merkel who appeared to offer a glimmer of hope by saying Britain should try to find a breakthrough to the issue over the next month.
“I want a deal,” Johnson told Macron. “I think we can get a deal and a good deal.”
He added that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his talks with Merkel. “I admire that ‘can do’ spirit that she seemed to have.”
But many Brexit watchers see Merkel’s remarks as fitting a pattern in which she has often been more conciliatory in public about Brexit than Macron, whose abrasive remarks have caused anger in London in the past.
“There is not the width of cigarette paper between Paris and Berlin on these issues,” a senior aide to Macron said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The EU official in Brussels added that the EU was “a little concerned based on what we heard yesterday (in Berlin).”
“We are waiting for new facts, workable ideas,” the official added.
Johnson, who has deployed his French language skills to charm diplomats in Paris before, has staked his leadership on withdrawing Britain from the EU by the current deadline of October 31 — “do or die.”
Some analysts see a risk of relations between Macron and Johnson becoming stormy in public, which could lead to a blame game about a “no deal” Brexit.
Johnson reportedly once called the French “turds” over their stance on Brexit during his time as foreign secretary — remarks he later said he could not recall.
But Macron pre-empted any attempt to deflect blame onto the European side during a press conference on Wednesday before Johnson’s arrival.
“It will be the responsibility of the British government, always, because firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” he said.
Article 50 is the legal mechanism used by EU members states to withdraw from the bloc which was triggered by Britain in March 2017.
At the weekend, Macron, Merkel and Johnson will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of both Brexit and Johnson, at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.