Indians could have lived for 1.7 years more with cleaner air

Every 8th death in country is due to air pollution, finds first state-wide research on its impact  

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Thursday 06 December 2018

One out of every eight deaths in India is attributable to air pollution and the average life expectancy in the country would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution level was less than the minimal level causing health loss.

This was found by the “first study” on the impact of air pollution on deaths, disease burden and life expectancy in all the Indian states.

The study, called the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, was published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal and released on December 6.

It was conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Air pollution now contributes to more disease burden in India than non-communicable diseases caused by tobacco use. The polluted air causes lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive lung disease, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and lung cancer, says the study.

Name of State Death rate attributable
air pollution in people
younger than
70 years
(in per cent)
Bihar 57
Madhya Pradesh 50
Jharkhand 59.2
Uttar Pradesh 53.1
Rajasthan 50.9
Chhatisgarh 57.8
Odisha 54.9
Asaam 53.1
Andhra Pradesh 48.7
West Bengal 50.9
Tripura 49.5
Arunachal Pradesh 50
Meghalaya 54.8
Karnataka 49.9
Telangana 50.4
Gujarat 49.3
Manipur 50
Jammu and Kashmir 45.8
HAryana 54.3
Uttarakhand 44.7
Tamil Nadu 53
Mizoram 46
Maharashtra 44.3
Punjab 58.1
Sikkim 43.5
Nagaland 50.5
Himachal Pradesh 40.9
UTs other than Delhi 52
Kerala 38·6
Delhi 51·1
Goa 42.5

This means government now needs to put air pollution too in the National Non Communicable Diseases programme which caters to the latter set of diseases

The annual population-weighted mean exposure to ambient particulate matter PM2.5 in India was 89.9 μg/m3 in 2017. As much as 76.8 per cent of the population of India has been found exposed to annual population-weighted mean PM2.5 greater than 40 μg/m3, which is the limit recommended by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in India.

Delhi had the highest annual population-weighted mean PM2.5 in 2017, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana in north India. All had mean values greater than 125 μg/m3. Of the 1.24 million deaths attributable to air pollution, more than half were people below 70 years. 

The researchers also calculated the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) rate due to air pollution. The DALY rate due to ambient particulate matter pollution was highest in the case of north Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, and Rajasthan.

“In India, the major sources of ambient particulate matter pollution are coal burning for thermal power production, industry emissions, construction activity and brick kilns, transport vehicles, road dust, residential and commercial biomass burning, waste burning, agricultural stubble burning, and diesel generators,” the study says.

Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Haryana together recorded highest number of deaths (54 per cent) attributable to air pollution.

The DALY rate per 10,000 people attributable to ambient particulate matter pollution was highest in Uttar Pradesh followed by Haryana. Of the total DALYs attributable to air pollution in India in 2017, the largest proportions were from lower respiratory infections (29.3%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (29.2%), and ischaemic heart disease (23.8%), followed by stroke (7.5%), diabetes (6.9%), lung cancer (1.8%), and cataract (1.5%).

In fact, the calculation shows that the DALY rate per 100000 population of lower respiratory infections due to air pollution was 821 as compared to 194 in case of tobacco use which use. The DALY rate for diabetes mellitus in case of air pollution was 194 as opposed to 95 in tobacco usage.

While the study finding calls for  more concerted efforts towards controlling air pollution, ICMR DG Brlram Bhargava said a steering committee has already been formed which includes several ministries, including, health, environment, forest and climate change and several others to look into the issue.

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