Why Drastic Cuts In City Air Pollution Could Extend Lifespans

Why Drastic Cuts In City Air Pollution Could Extend Lifespans

The average lifespan of residents of Copenhagen could increase by an entire year in 2040 if there were cuts in pollution to the level found in the countryside.

“Of course this reveals to the decision-makers the potential if they were to really do something about the air pollution. Copenhageners can live longer lives, because fewer would get sick and die from diseases which we know are caused by air pollution, among other things,” says Henrik Brønnum-Hansen, an associate professor from the public health department at the University of Copenhagen and first author of a new study.

Researchers used advanced models to simulate the effect of air pollution on the population. The model named “DYNAMO-HIA” uses data from large population surveys on health, pollution calculations for the individual streets based on traffic patterns, and register data regarding address, contact with the hospitals, and mortality.

“…if you want to prevent a large number of cases of disease and increase the average lifespan by an entire year, you need to do something drastic…”

Researchers studied nitrogen dioxide or NO2, which is emitted together with ultrafine particles from diesel vehicles.

It’s a well-known fact that particle pollution increases the risk of diseases like lung cancer, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. However, the traditional method for evaluating health effects underestimates the effect of traffic.

The researchers painted a much more precise picture by looking at NO2, which is closely connected to all health effects in Danish surveys, even though particles cause some of the effects. The level of pollution in Copenhagen is approximately three times as high as the level measured at a measuring station just outside the city of Roskilde.

“Of course our scenario is ambitious, because it more or less requires all polluting vehicles to be removed from Copenhagen. But if you want to prevent a large number of cases of disease and increase the average lifespan by an entire year, you need to do something drastic—and 2040 is way into the future, so it is not unrealistic,” says coauthor Steffen Loft, a professor in and head of the public health department.

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“…you do not just get one more year to live, you also get more years without disease.”

In addition to the extra year of life, the study also points to other health advantages to reducing air pollution. For example, by 2040 the number of men suffering from cardiovascular diseases could drop by 680 per 100,000 men, just as the number of women suffering from COPD could drop by 650 per 100,000 women if there were cuts to nitrogen dioxide pollution in the city.

The researchers emphasize that in addition to an extra year of life, Copenhageners would also experience higher quality of life following a large reduction in pollution.

“An important point of the new study is that you do not just get one more year to live, you also get more years without disease. So it is not just a question of the average lifespan, but also of quality of life,” says Brønnum-Hansen.

The researchers also calculated a scenario where air pollution drops by 20 percent. The result is an increased average lifespan of 0-3-0.5 years.

“If the politicians are not ready to conduct a full phase-out, naturally we would be happy to provide them with other calculations of the health consequences to reduce the level of pollution and increase the quality of life as much as possible,” Steffen Loft says.

The Independent Research Fund Denmark funded the study.

Source: University of Copenhagen

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