Fossil fuels behind millions of deaths

Significantly more people die prematurely due to emissions from fossil fuels than researchers previously thought. This emerges from a new study from, among others, Harvard University.

Every year, almost nine million people die prematurely due to the small particles formed during the combustion of fossil fuels (PM2.5). A group of American and British researchers have come to this conclusion by using a method that connects emission sources and population patterns in a detailed way.

The figure is more than twice as high as previous calculations have shown. According to the researchers behind the new study, this is because it has previously been based on a global average value for the particle content, which is based on rough satellite measurements together with measurements at the ground.

Distinguishes particles

“Satellite data only shows pieces of this puzzle,” said researcher Loretta J Mickley, of Harvard University, in a press release for the study, published in the journal Environmental Research.

Now, researchers have instead used a high-resolution model, which makes it possible to study the effect of emissions on a more local scale. In this way, they have also been able to isolate the effect of particulate emissions from fossil fuels, which are otherwise difficult to distinguish from dust and flue gases from, for example, wood burning.

“Instead of relying on averages that cut across large areas, we have wanted to map out where the emissions are and where people live, so that we can see more precisely what it is people are breathing in,” says Karn Vohra at the University of Birmingham, a another of the researchers behind the study.

Children more vulnerable

Premature mortality is highest in eastern North America and Europe, as well as in Southeast Asia. It is highest in China, where about 2.4 million people are estimated to die prematurely each year due to the burning of fossil fuels. The researchers state that, after all, this is an improvement since 2012, when the number of premature deaths was estimated at 3.4 million.

The effect of particulate pollution accumulates during the course of life, with increasing health effects that can eventually manifest themselves in the form of, among other things, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory diseases. Children are particularly sensitive to particulate matter contamination. This is partly due to the fact that their airways are not fully developed, and partly because for each breath they ingest a higher content of pollutants per kilogram of body weight, the researchers write. Their study shows that this can also have a more acute impact. In the United States, approximately 900 children are estimated to die before the age of four each year due to particles generated by fossil fuels. In Europe, the corresponding figure is just over 600.

Source: Nyteknik – Senaste nytt by

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