Burning fossil fuels kills more than 1 million people every year, study finds

Enlarge / Coal smoke and steam billow from the Bruce Mansfield Power Station in front of a largely abandoned children’s park on September 11, 2008, in Shippingport, Pa. After two huge releases of toxic coal soot in 2006 and 2007, the playpen was rarely used. The 2,460 MW coal-fired power plant was not fully decommissioned until November 2019.

Burning fossil fuels kills more than a million people every year, according to one new study who looked at the global health effects of fine particle pollution, also known as PM2.5.

Coal, which produces soot and particulate pollution, is responsible for half of these deaths, while natural gas and petroleum are responsible for the other half. About 80% of premature deaths from burning fossil fuels occur in South Asia or East Asia, according to the report.

“Our main goal was to identify the main sources of PM2.5 pollution and understand how these sources are changing around the world,” said Erin McDuffie, lead author of the study and research associate at the University of Washington. , in a press release. “In some countries, our results are among the first information they have on the main sources in their region. “

Because fine particle pollution can be so easily inhaled and swept into the bloodstream, it is responsible for a whole range of illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, COPD, lung cancer, and stroke. . More recently, researchers have discovered links between PM2.5 and other less obvious diseases like kidney failure and Parkinson’s disease. People who have been exposed to PM2.5 for a long time are also at risk of greater risk of hospitalization if they get sick with COVID.

The researchers collected monthly data on pollution and sources from 1970 to 2017 and analyzed them in a global air quality model in conjunction with satellite data. The result was a global outdoor PM2.5 map with a resolution of around 1 km.2. From there, they estimated the average outdoor exposure for people living in various parts of the world. The study was coordinated by the nonprofit Health Effects Institute and its coauthors were Randall Martin, professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering at the University of Washington, and Michael Brauer, professor of population and public health at the ‘University of British Columbia.

In regions such as South and East Asia and some countries in Eastern and Central Europe, coal is the cause of the majority of premature deaths resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels. This is in part due to the dependence of these regions on coal and the fact that their regulations are generally not as strict as elsewhere.

In regions such as North America and Western Europe, which rely less on coal, oil and natural gas account for the majority of deaths from particulate pollution from fossil fuels. Even in the United States, a country with relatively strict air quality laws, fine particle pollution from fossil fuels is responsible for around 20,000 deaths per year, according to the study.

The organization, based in the District of Columbia, says it “generally receives balanced funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the global auto industry.” This particular study, he said, was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Although it has not been published in a scientific journal, it has been reviewed by experts who are not involved in the institute’s studies.

Because the study attempted to estimate the global effects of particle pollution from fossil fuels, its findings are likely not as precise as those that might focus on a single region or country. The certainty of the results also depended on the quality of the underlying data: some countries collect better quality air pollution data than others.

This isn’t the first study to link exposure to PM2.5 to premature death, but it’s one of the most extensive reports geographically, putting some of the global fuel load in context. fossils.

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