Does air pollution kill?

A study published in Nature by Jos Lelieveld and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, in Mainz, Germany, found that although air pollution has several causes, residential energy emissions — such as those from heating and cooling — are a major contributor to premature mortality.

In addition, they found that in certain areas, including the eastern U.S. and East Asia, agricultural emissions have the largest relative contribution of fine particulate matter. The analysis used a global atmospheric chemistry model that combined population data and health statistics to estimate the relative contribution of different sources of outdoor air pollution to premature mortality.

And, in a second study appearing in Environmental Health Perspectives, George Thurston, ScD, of New York University, and colleagues analyzed 2000-2009 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other sources to calculate the death risk from exposure to particulate matter for people in each U.S. census district.

After adjusting for variables impacting health and longevity, they found that each increment of 10 mcg/m3 in exposure to fine particulates was associated with a 3% overall increased risk of death — and for nonsmokers, the risk rose by 27% for deaths due to respiratory diseases.