7 Sep

Map of the Week: Pollution and Life Expectancy


Source: Energy Policy Institute at The University of Chicago


Pollution is a well-known threat to overall human health, since it can lead to heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, among others. You can compare bad air quality-effects on the human body with the impact of a person smoking cigarettes for various decades.  Specifically, overexposure to air-borne particulate matter pollution, is a day-to-day reality for at least 4.5 billion people worldwide. The Air Quality Index shows the relationship between overexposure to pollution and a reduction in life expectancy, namely a decrease of 0.64 years for every 10 μg/m3 increase in airborne particulate matter. Thus, it reveals how conforming to global standards for the maximum degree of pollution would increase life expectancy.

The countries where pollution is most visible are India and China; this is mostly due to pollution created in some of the largest cities in the world, such as New Delhi and Shanghai. In India 4.01 years per person could be saved and in China the number of years runs up to 3.5, if they would adjust policy to take environmentally conscious measures to improve the cleanliness of the air that people breath in daily.

In fact, China has already been operating a special campaign for four years now, in what they call the “war against pollution”. According to Michael Greenstone, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, one measure to reduce pollution has involved the forceful ripping out of coal boilers from houses and commercial buildings, for example, which can be considered a very radical action. The policy turns out to be quite effective since the most densely populated cities in China are seeing a decline in airborne particulate matter concentrations. However, their pollution levels are still exceeding global and national standards (even though their nationwide standards are less strict than global norms). Moreover, in order for China to benefit from further measures, he argues, it should embrace more market-based regulations, such as pollution taxes.

The map of this week depicts the measured Air Quality Index, based on data derived from studies executed around the Huai River in China. It is created by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.


Written by: Feija Bruinsma