Air pollution causes 3.3 million deaths worldwide each year — primarily from strokes and heart attacks — according to a new study by a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher and colleagues. The study used health statistics and computer modeling to generate the most detailed picture yet of air pollution’s global toll. It projects that if emissions continue at the current rate, the number of deaths caused by air pollution could double by 2050.
The study was published online September 16, 2015 in Nature. John Evans, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School, was a co-author, along with scientists in Germany, Cyprus, and Saudi Arabia.
The researchers were surprised to find that agriculture was the second highest cause of air pollution-related deaths worldwide, and the top cause in the U.S. Northeast, Europe, Russia, Japan, and South Korea. This is a result of ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste combining with pollutants from power plants and car exhaust to form harmful soot particles.
The cause of the most pollution-related deaths worldwide was the use of biofuels for indoor cooking in the developing world. China had the most air pollution fatalities (1.4 million deaths a year), with the United States at number 7 on the list with 54,905 deaths.