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Pollution is worse for your health than smoking and alcohol, experts say

New research has shed light on just how bad pollution is for your health, and it’s actually knocking years of our lives.

Experts are calling for more investments to be made into the air we breathe, after experts discovered in some countries, air pollution is a greater risk to our health than smoking and alcohol.

This is a staggering discovery, given air is essential to human existence.

According to the annual Air Quality Life Index report, air pollution reduces the average lifespan globally by 2.3 years. In some of the most polluted countries, it’s reduced by almost 7 years.

The report has labelled this environmental crisis the “greatest external threat to human life expectancy.”

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The effects of inhaling unclean air are comparable to smoking, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago found, adding that it causes three times the damage of alcohol use, and five times the damage of injuries sustained in a car crash.

In the US alone, polluted areas of California showed residents who were exposed to high levels of fine matriculate matter presented symptoms of health distress on the brain and lungs.

So, if this is the impact air pollution is having in America alone, what about the worst affected continents? According to the report, as noted in the New York Post, Africa and Asia contribute to more than 92 per cent of the global life expectancy loss. 

The publication noted that air pollution is now a greater threat to public health than HIV/AIDS and malaria.

“Three-quarters of air pollution’s impact on global life expectancy occurs in just six countries, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Indonesia, where people lose one to more than six years off their lives because of the air they breathe,” said Michael Greenstone, Air Quality Life Index creator and Milton Friedman distinguished service professor in economics.

In 2023, the World Health Organization estimated that 99 per cent of the world was breathing potentially toxic air, meaning Australians are suffering, too.

“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have seven million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution,” says Dr María Neira, the director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Now experts like Greenstone, Neira and Christa Hasenkopf, director of the Energy Policy Institute air quality programs and AQLI, are urging the higher powers to invest in infrastructure to help with air quality, something that’s lacking in these countries.

Researchers see this as an opportunity for further funding to “collaboratively build the infrastructure that is missing today.”

“Timely, reliable, open-air quality data, in particular, can be the backbone of civil society and government clean air efforts – providing the information that people and governments lack and that allows for more informed policy decisions,” Hasenkopf told the New York Post.

Here in Australia, we do far better than most countries on the pollution index. According to the Australia Air Quality Index, Katherine in Western Australia is the most heavily polluted city in Oz, followed by Cooma in NSW and Wangaratta in Victoria. 

As for the cleanest air Down Under? In real-time, Kalgoorlie in Western Australia is the safest spot, followed by Ivanhoe in Victoria and Andamooka in South Australia.

But unless pollution on a global scale is significantly reduced, we’ll all be suffering the consequences for years to come.

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