Pollution Does Not Shorten Lifespan, Says Javadekar; Not True, Studies Show

Prakash Javadekar says air pollution is a global problem so there is no need to spread fear psychosis

The Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, on Tuesday, 6th December, suggested that no Indian studies showed a co-relation between air pollution and lifespan in the Parliament. His statement received flak from environmentalists and climate change activists.



Prakash Javadekar was responding to a question by Dr. Kakoli Ghosh. Dr. Ghosh, MP from Barasat in West Bengal, asked whether the government had taken into cognisance the deteriorating air quality and was referencing a 2016 study which stated that if India met the WHO guidelines for air pollution, the life expectancy of Indians would increase by 4.3 years.

Delhi faced severe deteriorating air quality over the last two months which led to air pollution being declared as a public health emergency. Breathing in Delhi was akin to smoking around 4 packets of cigarettes in a day.

The Minister, however, retorted that critics were creating a fear psychosis and no Indian study showed a co-relation between air pollution and lifespan. He further added that all the global studies are based on secondary studies and do not take into consideration first generation, real time data.


Indian Studies Exist!

The ICMR study

The Indian Council Of Medical Research (ICMR) published a study showing that one out of eight deaths could be attributed to air pollution in India. The study also found that life expectancy of Indians could increase by 1.7 years if air pollution was properly controlled. The ICMR is the leading medical research entity under the central government.

The report estimated exposure to air pollution, including ambient particulate matter pollution of PM2.5, and household air pollution, defined as percentage of households using solid cooking fuels and the corresponding exposure to PM2.5, across the states of India using accessible data from multiple sources as part of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2017.

This report predicted what the life expectancy would have been in each state of India if air pollution levels were similar to the permissible limits expressed by the WHO. The GBD analysed the trends of diseases, their mortality rates and impact from 1990 to 2016. The major finding was that air pollution was the second largest risk factor contributing to disease burden in India after malnutrition.

The study estimated the effect of exposure of air pollution, household air pollution, and solid cooking fuel utilisation through Disability adjusted life years (DALYs), and found that India had 18% of the global population in 2017, but had 26% of global DALYs attributable to air pollution.

DALY measures the overall disease burden on an individual as well as a population and is expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death. It also assists in estimating the life expectancy. DALYs for air pollution include years of life lost to lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and ischaemc heart disease, followed by stroke, diabetes, lung cancer, and cataract. The current levels of exposure to air pollution were then compared with the permissible levels by the WHO and the estimated changes in the trend of diseases as well as the increase in the life expectancy were analysed.

A substantial 8% of the total disease burden in India and 11% of premature deaths in people younger than 70 years could be attributed to air pollution. Around 1.24 million deaths in India could be attributed to air pollution in India in 2017. Controlling air pollution would possibly lead to an increase in life expectancy by 1.7 years.

Other studies

The environmental think tank, Centre for Science and Environment, also reported that PM2.5 is contributing to a loss of 2.6 years in life expectancy in India. The CSE has used the aforementioned technique to assess life expectancy.

According to this report, air pollution was the third-highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just above smoking, in India, in 2019.

BOOM spoke to Vivek Chattopadhyay, program manager at CSE regarding the statement by the Minister.

"There are Indian studies such as the one by the ICMR. Also, the WHO's statistics and other global evidences should not be ignored. They are all statistically significant studies which suggest the need to take air pollution, seriously".

The Canadian study cited by Ghosh in the Parliament, also highlights that studies have found an association between air pollution and total loss of life expectancy, but have left open ended questions on the causal relationship between air pollution and life expectancy. The study also states that particulate matter air pollution cuts global life expectancy short by nearly 2 years relative to what they would be if particulate concentrations everywhere were at the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO)

Soumya Swaminathan, the Deputy Director General (Programmes) at the World Health Organization, and the former director general of ICMR, urged governments and citizens to keep air pollution in check. Her tweet was in response to a study stating that measures taken across the world to reduce air pollution have improved health benefits in most countries. For instance, when Ireland banned smoking in workplaces in 2004, the number of people dying from any cause fell by 13 per cent after just a week


The World Health Organization also tweeted that climate change is a health issue with a video highlighting the various ways in which climate change affects humans.




Updated On: 2019-12-30T16:19:45+05:30
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