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.”


NASA investigating first crime committed in space: report

Updated 37 min 34 sec ago

NASA investigating first crime committed in space: report

  • Astronaut Anne McClain is accused of improperly accessing her partner’s private financial records while aboard the International Space Station
  • McClain’s lawyer said the astronaut accessed the account only to monitor the couple’s combined finances

WASHINGTON: US space agency NASA is investigating what may be the first crime committed in outer space, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Astronaut Anne McClain is accused of identity theft and improperly accessing her estranged wife’s private financial records while on a sixth-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the Times said.
The astronaut’s spouse Summer Worden filed a complaint earlier this year with the Federal Trade Commission after learning McClain had accessed her bank account without permission, while Worden’s family filed another with NASA’s Office of Inspector General, according to the newspaper.
McClain’s lawyer said the astronaut had done nothing wrong and accessed the bank records while aboard the ISS in order to monitor the couple’s combined finances — something she had done over the course of their relationship, the Times reported.
NASA investigators have contacted both women, according to the newspaper.
McClain, who returned to Earth in June, gained fame for being one of two women picked for a historic all-female spacewalk, but NASA scrapped the planned walk in March due to a lack of well-fitting spacesuits, sparking accusations of sexism.
Worden said the FTC has not responded to the identity theft report, but that an investigator specializing in criminal cases with NASA’s Office of Inspector General has been looking into the accusation, according to the Times.