Measures to reduce air pollution between 1990 and 2015 in three major Swedish cities have led to an increase in average life expectancy at birth by up to one year, according to a recent PhD thesis from ACES.
“While it has been widely known that exposure to harmful air pollutants is associated with adverse health effects, the health benefits associated with the decline in the concentration of air pollutants have rarely been assessed,” says Henrik Olstrup, a former PhD student at ACES and author of the thesis.
In his thesis, Henrik Olstrup has estimated the health benefits associated with the trends associated with nitrogen oxide (NOx ), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and PM10 (particles with a diameter smaller than 10 µm) in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo during a 25-year period (1990 – 2015). The calculations show that up to 20 % of the average increase in life expectancy at birth can be attributed to the decreasing concentrations of NOx.
“The increased life expectancy associated with the decreasing concentrations of NOx was a surprisingly large effect. NOx is a combustion-related pollutant, and the positive impact on health associated with its declining trend is probably the result of a general reduction in combustion-related air pollutants. In other words, the emission control measures implemented over the past three decades have produced significant health-promoting effects,” says Henrik Ostrup.
To be able to capture the combined effects associated with simultaneous exposure to several different air pollutants, Henrik Olstrup has developed a new air quality health index. The index is based on NOx, O3 and PM10, and birch pollen was also included as an additional useful tool for allergic individuals. An important application of this index is to provide information to the public about forecasted health risks associated with air pollutants and birch pollen so that sensitive subgroups may avoid certain places or periods where the index is expected to be high, and where the exposure to air pollutants is expected to have adverse health effects.
“Positive effects can be further promoted by the introduction of a public air quality health index, since it can help minimize exposure to air pollutants. While there are tangible adverse health effects associated with air pollutants, tangible health promotion effects are associated with measures to reduce air pollution,” says Henrik Olstrup.