Key sources of air pollution-related deaths differ among world regions

May 19, 2016

The most significant emission source sectors for global air pollution-related deaths differ among world regions, finds a new study.

For example, the residential and commercial sector has the most impact on global deaths related to fine particulate matter in the air. For deaths related to ozone, the land transportation sector has the greatest influence globally.

Dr. Jason West

Dr. Jason West

These findings, which are the result of a recently-published study by four researchers from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, suggest that some global actions might be beneficial in reducing air pollution-related deaths, but that different policies should be emphasized in different world regions.

The study co-authors include Zachariah Adelman, doctoral student, and J. Jason West, PhD, associate professor, both with the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Gillings School. Co-authors Raquel A. Silva, PhD, and Meridith M. Fry, PhD, are both alumni of UNC Gillings who now work with the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

“Basically, we used computer modeling to separate the global burden of air pollution on premature deaths into contributions from different source sectors,” explains West. “We found that the source that is most important for one world region may have less impact than a different source in another part of the world.”

Recent studies – including some from West’s lab – suggest that the global burden of ambient air pollution on health is currently high, and likely is related to more than two million premature deaths each year. “The health effects of air pollution are underappreciated,” says West.

However, he notes, the sources of air pollution that are most responsible for negative health effects have not been made entirely clear. To learn more, the research team used simulations with a global model to evaluate the contributions of different source categories (residential and commercial, energy, industry, land transportation, and shipping and aviation) to global air pollution-related mortality.

The researchers ran extremely high-level computer modeling through multiple simulations of the entire global atmosphere at fine resolution. “This level of detail took full advantage of UNC’s research computers,” West shares.

Ultimately, they concluded that targeting the land transportation sector for ozone pollution and the residential and commercial sector for particulate matter pollution would be of the most benefit to human health around the globe.

“In South Asia, residential emissions from home cooking and heating are particularly important, whereas in North America, land transportation stands out for its health effects,” adds West.

The full article, titled “The Impact of Individual Anthropogenic Emissions Sectors on the Global Burden of Human Mortality due to Ambient Air Pollution,” was published online May 13 by Environmental Health Perspectives.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu

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