Air Pollution Could Rob You of the Last Decade of Your Life

Every year, 200,000 U.S. residents die 10 years earlier than they have to because of air pollution. That’s the staggering conclusion of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A study team from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment published its findings in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

The study tracked ground-level pollution from six different emissions sectors:

  • Road transportation
  • Marine transportation
  • Rail transportation
  • Electric power generation
  • Industrial sources
  • Commercial and residential sources

By far, the most premature deaths attributable to air pollution come from road transportation, according to the study. The exhaust spewing from the tailpipes of cars and trucks causes approximately 53,000 early deaths per year.

“It was surprising to me just how significant road transportation was,” Steven Barrett, MIT assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics told the MIT News, “especially when you imagine [that] coal-fired power stations are burning relatively dirty fuel.” Power generation in fact causes the second most number of early deaths, with an estimated 52,000 occurring each year.

“In the past five to 10 years, the evidence linking air-pollution exposure to risk of early death has really solidified and gained scientific and political traction,” Barrett said. ”There’s a realization that air pollution is a major problem in any city, and there’s a desire to do something about it.”

The researchers used 2005 emissions data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Emissions Inventory for their study, which was the most recent information available at the time they began their work.

After loading EPA’s data into an air quality simulation, the team dropped out each of the six pollutant sectors under study one by one, allowing them to differentiate pollutant concentrations in the atmosphere. Overlaying this information onto U.S. population density maps gave the team a pretty good picture of what areas are most affected by which types of air pollution.

Barrett’s team determined that the sources of ground-level air pollution affecting your longevity will differ depending on where you live. For example, marine pollution affects southern Californians more than residents of other states due to the high volume of shipping and port activities in that area.

los angeles smog

Smoggy Los Angeles on a sunny day

Residents in densely populated areas tend to suffer most from vehicle emission-related pollution. Think of all those commuting hours sitting in exhaust-laden traffic in areas like New York City, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., and it’s not hard to understand why.

Predictably, industrial pollution most directly affects residents near Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and along the Gulf Coast.

Baltimore has the dubious honor of being the city with the highest early mortality rate due to air emissions. After tracking local emissions from 5,695 U.S. cities, the study team determined that long-term exposure to air pollution prematurely ends the lives of 130 of every 100,000 residents there every year.

Sunny, health-conscious California turns out to be the state most affected by air pollution. State by state analysis demonstrated that about 21,000 Californians die before their time, primarily due to a combination of pollution from vehicle emissions and commercial/residential emissions attributable to heating and cooking.

Premature death at the rate of 200,000 every year is an incredible statistic. What will we do to stop that number from creeping ever upward? How will we get it back down? In an industrialized society such as ours, those answers are not easy to come by.

Related Stories:

Could Air Pollution Cause Autism and Diabetes in Children?

SUCCESS! EPA Finalizes Tougher Air Quality Standards

Top Corporate Polluters Named, Costs of Dirty Air Borne By Us All

Photo credits: Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

ty for a good article. the future sure seems grim. sigh

Biby C.
Biby C4 years ago

With a population reaching 7 billion, even going back to primitive ways of burning firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating and using animals to draw carriages won't help. And with certain quarters of the population opposing birth control, the problem doesn't seem like it's going to be solved any time soon. Humans are just doing themselves in.

Mary K.
M. C4 years ago

Is it all too late ????????

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Susan, for Sharing this!

Lynnl C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Karen C.
Karen Chestney4 years ago

Very informative article, Thanks. Clearly we need to be working on cleaning up our AIR---not to mention---our planet !!!

Vrishni S.
Rekha S4 years ago

We need to start taking steps to reduce this now to prevent it from happening.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

To Alex - "your government is actually a corporation" - right.

But WE elected the government - they're salaries are paid with our tax money i.e. THEY are OUR employees. Back then when I worked officially I did what with an employee who didn't perform? I gave him/her 2 written warnings and then dismissed him/her.

Maybe we should start remembering this very simple fact: THEY work for US (sounds good, eh?). THEY are OUR employees. WE can and have the legal right to fire them!!

What exactly stops you/us from doing the same with these employees which we call "politicians"? Nothing really ... for all I'm concerned.

Or am I wrong????

Alex H.
Alex H4 years ago

So what do we do while more and more people go down with lung disorders and diseases?Build more roads,absolutely insane!Instead,we should be moving to more rail traffic and of course,no emissions electric and hybrid cars!!!Someone once said "To build more roads to ease traffic congestion,is the same as loosening your belt to combat obesity"!!Is anyone seriously doing anything about methane emissions from waste dumps and meat animals?Methane is worse than carbon!Remember the "bally hoo"when unleaded petrol was brought in as supposedly a healthier alternative to leaded petrol?Well,guess what,the situation with smog from unleaded and diesel fumes,is much worse!Once again,we have been conned!The fact that oil and petrol giants are still dictating a terminal polluting agenda,so they can continue to profit from what is left of the resources,rather than encourage healthier transport alternatives,is a bloody disgrace.Shame on all those governments that allow this to continue,but remember,your government is actually a corporation!!!?