New study quantifies the severe health costs of air pollution in India

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India’s air pollution is among the worst in the world, as ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO). Now, a Harvard Kennedy School professor is helping to bring the massive scale of the problem to public attention and test possible solutions.

A new study published in this week’s Economic & Political Weekly shows that India’s high air pollution has pernicious health consequences for nearly every person in India. The study, led by Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy, and collaborators from Harvard, University of Chicago, and Yale, shows that over half of India’s population – 660 million people – live in areas where fine particulate matter pollution is above India’s standards for what is considered safe. Furthermore, 99.5 percent live in areas with air pollution above the WHO’s stricter guidelines for healthy air.

The researchers find that if India met its own air standards, those 660 million people would add about 3.2 years onto their lives. Put another way, lack of compliance with Indian air quality standards is costing the country’s citizens 2.1 billion life-years.