Deaths linked to PM2.5 2nd highest in India: Study

In India, coal accounted for 16% deaths linked to air pollution in 2015 and 17.1% in 2017

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 20 December 2021
Fossil fuel burning linked to nearly 1.05 million deaths globally: Study Photo: Vikas Choudhary

India recorded 867,000 deaths in 2017 due to exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — the second-highest in the world, according to a new report. 

China topped the list with 1,387,000 deaths. Indonesia came third, recording 94,000 deaths, followed by Egypt 88,000, Pakistan 86,000, Russian Federation 68,000, Bangladesh 64,000, Nigeria 51,000 and the United States 47,000, the report stated. 

The study Global Burden of Disease from Major Air Pollution Sources: A Global Approach by Health Effects Institute (HEI), an independent, non-profit research institute was published December 15, 2021. It analysed data on air pollution and mortality from 1970-2017. 

In India, the top four of the 200 areas with the highest PM2.5 concentrations — Singrauli, Kanpur, Sitapur and Ahmedabad — all experienced increase in population-weighted mean (PWM) for PM2.5 mass between 1970 and 2017 (the study period). The PWM for these places were 14-16 times the annual average advocated in World Health Organization guidelines. 

Fossil fuels are a major source of PM2.5 emissions that are trapped in the atmosphere due to various atmospheric factors, past studies have established.

Of the fossil fuels, coal contributed the most to global deaths associated with particulate matter emissions, the study found. “In India, coal accounted for 16 per cent deaths linked to air pollution in 2015 and 17.1 per cent in 2017.”  

Another study published in Environmental Research in February 2021 found that air pollution and higher particulate matter 2.5 concentrations in ambient air originating from fossil fuel combustion caused 2.5 million premature deaths in India in 2018. 

Globally, the number of deaths associated with outdoor PM2.5 exposure was 2.07 million in 2017 and increased marginally to 2.09 million in 2019, the HEI study found. 

Burning of fossil fuels contributed to nearly 1.05 million deaths in 2017 worldwide, 800,000 of which were in South Asia or East Asia (32.5 per cent of air pollution-related deaths in those regions), according to a new study. 

The industry sector also contributed to the largest attributable deaths per 100,000 people in North Korea, China and India.

The burning of solid biofuels, such as wood for indoor heating and cooking, is another major source of PM2.5, accounting for an additional 740,000 deaths mostly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Coal combustion alone was responsible for half of those deaths, while natural gas and oil combustion were responsible for the other half, the study found.  

Other dominant global sources included residential, industrial and energy sectors, according to the report. 

Regions with large anthropogenic contributions generally had the highest attributable deaths, the findings showed. 

Complete elimination of coal in China and India could reduce the global PM2.5 disease burden by nearly 20 per cent, the study suggested. 

The new report brought together, for the first time, comprehensive global estimates of the most common sources of PM2.5 at global, regional and national scales. The research was done using updated emissions inventories, satellite and air quality monitoring as well as relationships between air quality and health to determine results. 

The researchers called for integrating air quality, energy and climate policies to bring about substantial health benefits.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.