If India reduced its air pollution to comply with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality standards, its people could live about four years longer on average, the Air Quality-Life Index (AQLI) released on Tuesday by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, shows.
Among India’s most populous cities, the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi would make the most impressive gains in average life expectancy (nine years), followed by Agra (8.1 years) and Bareilly (7.8 years).
The study takes air borne particulate matter pollution, PM 2.5, into account and extrapolates it to see what impact any reduction in its volume would have on the life span of people.
Accordingly, it says that if PM 2.5 quantity in Delhi’s air meets the WHO annual standard of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3), people can live up to nine years longer and six years longer if it meets the national standard of 40 ug/m3.
Products of vehicular and industrial combustion, PM 2.5 are air borne ultra fine particulates, measuring less than 2.5 microns, which can cause irreparable harm to humans by entering the respiratory system and subsequently the bloodstream.
The AQLI arrives at the conclusion by translating the particulate concentrations into their impact on lifespans, “unlike previous studies that tend to rely on data tracking people’s exposure over a short time period”.
“It suggests that particulates are the greatest current environmental risk to human health, with the impact on life expectancy in many parts of the world similar to the effects of every man, woman and child smoking cigarettes for several decades,” Michael Greenstone, Director of EPIC said.
Delhi has consistently ranked high among the list of most polluted cities in the world.