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Air pollutants in India kill more than 400,000 people a year in urban and rural areas

Sources of pollution differ but models predict more deaths in rural areas because of higher populations there

by K.V. Venkatasubramanian
June 4, 2018


Air pollution in India’s cities is a well known threat to urban populations. But new models of air pollution exposure suggest that residents in both rural and urban areas of Northern India die prematurely because of the threat. “Though the sources may be different, the results are the same—high mortality linked to circulatory and respiratory problems,” say the researchers, led by Alexandra Karambelas of Columbia University’s Earth Institute (Environ. Res. Lett. 2018, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aac24d).

The major source of rural air pollution in India is residential burning of wood and other biomass used predominantly for cooking and heating. Urban sources come from fossil fuel combustion for transportation, industry, and electricity generation.

The scientists modeled concentrations of two key pollutants—fine particles, generated by incomplete combustion of various fuels, and ozone, a by-product of combustion—in the Indo-Gangetic Plain region, excluding India’s five southern states. They then extrapolated premature mortality rates using data from the Global Burden of Disease, a worldwide consortium that measures the health effects of pollutants and other adverse factors.

Overall, the results indicate that pollution in rural and urban areas each causes 5.4 premature deaths per 10,000 people annually in Northern India. Because more people live in rural areas, this translates to 383,600 deaths in rural areas and 117,200 deaths in urban areas.

“Addressing air pollution is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach,” Karambelas says. “Instead, policy-makers will have to look at the available technologies and fuel options to transition to low-emitting options at local levels.”


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