World’s largest data collection of pollution estimates will advance understanding of global disease burden

Reprinted  with permission from ACS PUBLICATIONS Copyright 2015. American Chemical Society.

Reprinted with permission from ACS PUBLICATIONS
Copyright 2015. American Chemical Society.

Ambient air pollution has been identified as a leading risk factor for global disease burden, with an estimated 2.9 million attributable deaths in the year 2013 and 87% of the world’s population living in areas where pollution exceeds the World Health Organization Air Quality Guideline. Now the world’s largest data collection of pollution estimates will help researchers understand pollution’s effect.

Led by Dr. Michael Brauer, professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, a team of researchers from Canada, US, Italy, Switzerland, India, Sweden, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, have collected the most comprehensive estimates of global exposure to ambient particulate matter air pollution, including trends for 188 countries over a 23-year period (1990-2013).

“This data represents the most extensive collections of global air pollution concentration estimates produced to date,” said Dr. Brauer. “We want this data to be used – by researchers, countries and international agencies – and believe they are important measures of sustainability, which can be used to track progress and performance. For example, the World Bank has adopted these estimates as part of their World Development Indicators.”

The updated estimates represent an advance in understanding population exposure to ambient air pollution for Global Burden of Disease assessment, and other impact analyses. The global coverage allows for estimation of concentrations in areas without extensive ground monitoring, including for example, rural areas with large emissions from household use of solid fuels.

“Using updated methods for evaluation to review the data collection we were able to revise the estimates for global exposure to ambient particulate matter air pollution. We found that fine particulate matter in the atmosphere had increased by 20.4%,” said Brauer. “Large concentrations of fine particulate matter had increased in India, China, Brazil, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where air pollution emissions is caused by vehicle traffic, coal-fired power plant emissions, and household fuel use.”

Dr. Michael Brauer

Dr. Michael Brauer

“Given the evidence indicating the importance of ambient air pollution to global disease burden and the expectation of annual Global Burden of Disease updates beginning in 2015, we anticipate a need for regular updating and improving of these estimates and their use in policy assessments and comparative analyses,” said Brauer.

The researchers also found that population weighted ozone levels increased globally, though to a lesser degree than for fine particulate matter (8.9% from 1990-2013). There were modest decreases in North America, Europe and some Southeast Asian countries, all of which had implemented air quality management programs.

This study was published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

Photo: Damián Bakarcic / Flickr CC BY 2.0

Photo: Damián Bakarcic / Flickr CC BY 2.0