A few follow-ups on the air pollution story.
Long Term Pollution Trends
First, the official pollutant trends from DEFRA:
We can see that emissions of most pollutants have fallen sharply since the 1990s and earlier, notably NOx and PMs.
If 40,000 people really are dying of air pollution, I hate to think how many were in the 1970s!
DEFRA also show progression towards the international Gothenberg standards. NOx is already well below the 2010 target, and both NOx and PMs are close to achieving 2020 one.
Analysis From University of Cambridge
Back in February, the Winton Centre published its own pretty damning analysis of the Royal College of Physicians study:
Does air pollution kill 40,000 people each year in the UK?
Air pollution is news. The Daily Mail claims that Air pollution is ‘killing 40,000 a year in the UK’ Greenpeace says 40,000 lives were cut short by air pollution in the U.K., while the Guardian reports Air pollution crisis ‘plagues’ UK, finds UN human rights expert. But where does the 40,000 figure come from, what does it mean, and is there really a ‘crisis’? I discovered that digging down to the basis for this figure required some statistical detective work, so brace yourself for some forensic details…
Where the ‘40,000’ comes from
The number itself was rather easy to find: it comes from a 2016 report Every Breath We Take: the Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), in which they state
Each year, inhaling particulates causes around 29,000 deaths in the UK, which, on recent evidence, may rise to around 40,000 deaths when also considering nitrogen dioxide exposure
In turn, these estimates are derived from a 2009 report by Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP)
The Winton study goes on to reveal the huge uncertainties around the projections, which even the COMEAP acknowledged.
In particular, the COMEAP conclusions are mainly based on one paper by Pope et al in 2002, which examined around 500,000 adults in the US. Although Pope estimated a 6% increase in annual mortality risk per 10 mPM (10 ‘micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter), damningly the COMEAP points out that Pope made no allowance for socioeconomic status, something that would be expected to have a major impact on mortality.
Other studies come up with drastically different conclusions. For instance, the WHO estimate only 16,000 attributable deaths in the UK from air pollution.
And, as Winton point out, these are not actual, counted deaths, as the RCP fraudulently claim. The most that can be argued is that air pollution makes existing illnesses worse. So, for instance, somebody dying of lung cancer may die slightly earlier than otherwise.
New US Study
As mentioned above, the claim of 40000 deaths is largely based on one study in the US.
This year, a new study, “Air Quality and Acute Deaths in California, 2000 – 2012”, by Young, Smith & Lopiano has concluded that there is no link between PM2.5 and acute deaths.
Steve Milloy’s recent book, Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA, is a reminder of just how the issue of air pollution has been overhyped and politicized lately.
The highly political report by the RCP is just one more example.
Read more at Not a lot of People Know That
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