Premature mortality due to air pollution contributed to over 29 million healthy years of life lost

By Dan Greenbaum and Bob O’Keefe*

A comprehensive study led by IIT Bombay, the Health Effects Institute (HEI), and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has found that household burning and coal combustion were the single largest sources of air pollution-related health impact in India in 2015, with emissions from agricultural burning, anthropogenic dusts, transport, other diesel, and brick kilns also contributing significantly (click HERE). India has begun to implement clean fuels and pollution control programs for households, power plants, vehicles, and other sources. However, as the Indian population grows and ages, the health impacts from air pollution will increase, highlighting the challenges facing the country.

Air Pollution a Nationwide Challenge

Even as there has been growing attention to the air pollution levels in the National Capital Region, this new report highlights the levels of air pollution across all of India, especially the Gangetic Plain. Data from the 2015 Global Burden of Disease analysis, supported by Indian health evidence, suggest that these levels contribute to over 10% of all Indian deaths each year. The premature mortality attributed to air pollution contributed to over 29 million healthy years of life lost (DALYs); overall, air pollution contributed to nearly 1.1 million deaths in 2015, with the burden falling disproportionately (75%) on rural areas.

Air Pollution among the Major Risk Factors in India

This new report, published after rigorous analysis and peer review, was preceded by the comprehensive India-wide Global Burden of Disease analysis released in November 2017: India: Health of the Nation’s States, which identified air pollution, both outdoors and in households, as the second most serious risk factor for public health in India, after malnutrition, contributing to 6.4% of all healthy years of life lost (DALYs) in 2016.

“While India faces a number of important risk factors for death and disability, we have found that air pollution outdoors and in households is a very significant risk factor,” said Dr. Kalpana Balakrishnan, Sri Ramachandra University (Chennai) and the leader of the environment and health portion of the recent India-specific GBD analysis released in November.

pollution3Residential Biomass Burning and Coal Emissions from Power and Industry among Leading Sources in 2015; Many Sources Contribute to Pollution and Ill Health

This new study — Burden of Disease Attributable to Major Air Pollution Sources in India – provides the first comprehensive assessment conducted in India to understand exposures at national and state levels from all major sources of particulate-matter air pollution (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 µm, or PM2.5). It takes advantage of enhanced satellite data and India’s growing network of air pollution monitors, and is the first to estimate the exposure from different air pollution sources state by state throughout India. It then builds on Indian health evidence and the GBD data to identify current and future nationwide burdens of disease attributable to each major source across India.

Key Sources and Burdens Identified: The study found that residential biomass fuel burning contributed to some 268,000 deaths in 2015; coal combustion from both thermal electric power plants and industry contributed to 169,000 deaths; anthropogenic dusts contributed to 100,000 deaths; agricultural burning contributed to 66,000 deaths; and transport, diesel, and kilns contributed to over 65,000 deaths in India in 2015. “This systematic analysis of emissions from all sources and their impact on ambient air pollution exposure found significant contributions from regional sources (like residential biomass, agricultural residue burning and industrial coal), underlying that from local sources (like transportation and brick kilns),” said Dr. Chandra Venkataraman, of IIT Bombay, who led the air pollution source analysis.

Future Impacts up to 2050: Lower Air Pollution, But Continued High Health Burden

Looking ahead, the study noted that a much larger portion of the Indian population, as it ages and grows, may be susceptible to the heart and lung disease that is tied most closely to air pollution exposure. The study evaluated three future scenarios with differing policies for energy use and pollution control. According to the study’s analysis of a 2050 scenario with no further air pollution control actions (designated REF), the health burdens would increase to over 73 million healthy years of life lost and over 3.6 million deaths in 2050.

However, the study analyzed two control scenarios with increasing levels of emissions reduction (designated S2, Ambitious; and S3, Aspirational) and concluded that the most active control actions (S3) could avoid over 1.2 million annual deaths in 2050 if implemented.

Substantial Source Challenges, but Many Cost-Effective Technologies Available to Reduce Risk

This new study identifies in detail the challenges posed by the many sources of air pollution in India, especially as the population grows and ages, and economic activity accelerates, but also highlights the significant progress that can be made. “Looking ahead, the opportunities for innovative and cost-effective actions to control air pollution — some of which such as Ujjwala Yojana and Bharat Stage VI, are already beginning — provide an opportunity to address these potential health burdens before they grow substantially, even while at the same time improving the efficiency of the economy,” said Dan Greenbaum, President of the Health Effects Institute.

Major Source Contributions in 2015 and 2050, and Current and Possible Actions:


*Slightly abridged version of the Press Release on the study “Burden of Disease Attributable to Major Air Pollution Sources in India”

Click HERE to download full report

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