Worsening air quality major cause of premature deaths, study finds

Worsening air quality in the last two decades has emerged as one of the major reasons for high numbers of premature deaths, says a new study conducted in 11 north Indian cities.

The findings titled ‘Know what you breathe’, released, were researched by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi in collaboration with environmental NGO Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED). The report found annual mortality linked to air pollution to be in the range of 150-300 persons per 1 lakh population.

The study was conducted in seven cities of Uttar Pradesh (Allahabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut, Varanasi, and Gorakhpur), three cities of Bihar (Patna, Gaya, and Muzaffarpur), and the capital of Jharkhand, Ranchi.

 

Kanpur recorded the highest number of premature deaths per year (4,173) due to chronic exposure to air pollution, followed by Lucknow (4,127), Agra (2,421), Meerut (2,044), Varanasi (1,581), Allahabad (1,443) and Gorakhpur (914).

The study calculated the annual “mortality burden” through averages of recorded deaths caused due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Acute Lower Respiratory Infection (ALRI), coronary disease, stroke, and lung cancer, in these cities. COPD was the largest cause of the deaths (at 29.7%) and lung cancer the lowest (0.6%).

The largest share in total burden was attributed to ALRI in Agra and Meerut, and to COPD in Allahabad, Gaya, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Lucknow, Patna, Muzaffarpur and Varanasi.

The estimates should not be perceived as instant deaths, said the report, clarifying that they represent premature (earlier than the expected lifetime of the Indian population) deaths due to chronic exposure from pollution. However, “it isn’t possible to validate these estimates, as cause-specific mortality data do not exist in India,” said the report authored by Dr. Sagnik Dey, Associate Professor, Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, IIT-Delhi.

Premature mortality burden would reduce by 14%-28% annually with the achievement of Indian air quality standards in these cities, the report said.

The report found levels of PM2.5 exposure moving downward from west to east of the Indo-Gangetic plain with the highest proliferation in Varanasi and the lowest in Ranchi. The report has indicated an increase of 28.5 microgram / m3 in PM 2.5 in the last 17 years in Varanasi.

The annual particular matter exposure was the highest in Meerut, with an “alarming” figure of 99.2 ug/M3 (microgram per cubic metre), followed by Agra (91) and Lucknow (83.5).

The study has attributed residential (cooking, heating, and lighting) sources as the largest contributors to annual ambient PM2.5 concentration (73.8%) followed by industry (11.7%), transport (9.8%) and energy sectors (4.6%).

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