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Dirty Air: #1 Health Threat, Study Says

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Dirty air is super bad for our health, worse than smoking or drinking. Especially in South Asia, it’s getting worse, even though China is getting better, a study said on Tuesday.

But money to fix this air problem? There’s way less compared to what’s spent on fighting sicknesses like the flu, says a study from a Chicago University group called EPIC.

Their yearly report says the tiny bits of pollution in the air, from cars, factories, and even wildfires, are the biggest health danger we face.

Imagine if we cleaned up the air everywhere, following the World Health Organization’s rules? Everyone could live about 2.3 years longer on average, the study found. That’s like giving the whole world 17.8 billion more years to live!

These tiny pollution bits? They can cause lung problems, heart issues, strokes, and even cancer.

For a bit of comparison, smoking takes away 2.2 years from our lives on average, and not having enough good food during childhood and for moms takes away 1.6 years.

“The impact of (fine particulate air pollution) on global life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, more than 3 times that of alcohol use and unsafe water, more than 5 times that of transport injuries like car crashes, and more than 7 times that of HIV/AIDS,” the report explains.

Places like Asia and Africa suffer the most. But they don’t have good ways to let people know about it or get much help.

For instance, the whole of Africa gets less than $300,000 to fight bad air.

Christa Hasenkopf from EPIC told a news group, “There is a profound disconnect with where air pollution is the worst and where we, collectively and globally, are deploying resources to fix the problem.”

There’s a global group giving $4 billion each year to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, but there’s no such group for clean air.

The report said “Yet, air pollution shaves off more years from the average person’s life in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Cameroon than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other health threats.” 

Around the world, South Asia is hit hardest by bad air. Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan are the top four with the dirtiest air. This is measured by tiny bits in the air called PM2.5.

They measure how bad the air is using something called the AQLI. It shows how dirty air can shorten our lives.

In Bangladesh, the air has a lot of tiny bad bits called PM2.5. If the air was cleaner, people there could live almost 7 years longer!

Delhi in India is super dirty, being the “dirtiest big city.”

China, though, is getting its act together. Christa Hasenkopf said they’ve made big changes since 2014. The air got way better by 2021. If it keeps up, people there might live 2.2 years longer.

In the US, laws like the Clean Air Act made the air way better since 1970. That might add 1.4 years to an American’s life. But, there’s a problem: wildfires. They make the air bad, from the US all the way to places like Latin America and Asia.

For example, in 2021, California had some huge fires. One area there had air 5 times dirtier than what’s safe.

Canada had bad fires too, making people worry about breathing that air.

North America and Europe have made their air cleaner over the years. But Europe’s not all the same. Some parts, like Bosnia, still have really dirty air. 

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