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Air pollution contributed to 1.67 million deaths in India last year

India’s air pollution contributed to 1.67 million premature deaths in 2019, according to a study led by Boston College. The researchers also determined that pollution-related economic losses totaled $36.8 billion in the same year.

Overall, deaths associated with air quality accounted for 17.8 percent of all deaths across India during 2019.

“Pollution takes an enormous human toll in India,” said study lead author Dr. Philip J. Landrigan. “It is causing 1.67 million premature deaths per year – many more than from COVID-19.”

According to Dr. Landrigan, the consequences for this nation of 1.35 billion people will be long-lasting without efforts to reduce air pollution. 

“It is also having a profound effect on the next generation of Indians. It increases future risk for heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease for today’s children when they become adults. It is reducing children’s IQ. It will be very difficult for India to move forward socially or economically if they don’t do something about the problem.”

The researchers also discovered rapidly changing patterns of pollution-related disease in India. Deaths associated with indoor air pollution have decreased by 64.2 percent since 1990. During the same time period, deaths related to outdoor levels of fine particle pollution have increased by 115.3 percent, and those related to ozone pollution have increased by 139.2 percent.

India’s dramatic spike in outdoor air pollution is tied to an increase in vehicle emissions, as well as the widespread use of coal to generate power.

Climate change exacerbates pollution through atmospheric stagnation, temperature-driven increases in particulate matter, and ground-level ozone formation, which are likely to be particularly severe in India, explained the researchers.

Dr. Landrigan said there are ample solutions and examples of successful pollution reduction policies that can be developed to meet the specific needs of the country and its states. He pointed out that China, a country with a similar size population and equally ambitious economic goals, adopted pollution control targets in its most recent five-year plan and is making progress on pollution control.

“We point to countries like the United States where we reduced air pollution by 70 percent since passage of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s,” said Dr. Landrigan. “At the same time, US GDP grew by 250 percent. There are similar statistics from Europe, Australia, and Japan. Pollution control does not stifle economic growth.”

The study is published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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