Excess deaths due to air pollution: At least 48 percent of deaths are due to cardiovascular disease (ischaemic heart disease and stroke). (European Health Journal Graphics)

Excess deaths due to air pollution: At least 48 percent of deaths are due to cardiovascular disease (ischaemic heart disease and stroke). (European Health Journal Graphics)

The number of premature deaths due to air pollution is more than 8.8 million every year, double of previous estimates, a new study found. 

Earlier studies had found air pollution causing 4.5 million premature deaths. The new study estimates, the developed European countries with stringent pollution laws account for 790,000 early deaths. 

A large number of these deaths, nearly 40 to 80 percent were linked to cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks and strokes. Smog significantly contributed to blockage of arteries, researchers found.  

"To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking, which the World Health Organization estimates were responsible for an extra 7.2 million deaths in 2015,”, Professor Thomas Münzel, a co-author of the study said. 

Smoking is avoidable, but air pollution is not, he added. The study published in the current issue of the European Heart Journal revealed that cardiovascular diseases caused by toxic air are extremely high. 

The cocktail of extremely fine particles known as particulate matter 2.5, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ground-level O-zone has also been linked to lower productivity in regions prone to smog.  

“In Europe alone, the excess number of deaths is nearly 800,000 a year, and each of these deaths represents an average reduction in life expectancy of more than two years," Münzel added. 

Air pollution-related death rates were unusually high in eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Ukraine, with over 200 each year per 100,000 of the population.

In Germany, air pollution accounts for 154, Poland 150, and the UK 98 deaths reducing life expectancy by over two years. 

"The high number of extra deaths caused by air pollution in Europe is explained by the combination of poor air quality and dense population, which leads to exposure that is among the highest in the world,” Professor Jos Lelieveld, the study's co-author said. 

Replacing fossil fuel notorious for releasing a high amount of PM 2.5 and toxic gases with clean energy sources can significantly control emissions. 

“When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change. We could also reduce air pollution-related death rates in Europe by up to 55 percent,” the study maintained. 

Controlling fine dust in the air by limiting agricultural emissions, responsible for emitting a considerable amount of fine particulate matter in the air, might help further reduce the aftermath of air pollution, researchers suggested.  

"In Germany, for instance, agriculture contributes up to 45 percent of PM2.5 to the atmosphere,” Lelieveld added.  

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