A new study led by Prof. Mikael Skou Andersen of Aarhus University in Denmark finds that an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter in air pollution reduces an individual’s life expectancy by between 9 and 11 years. This is more than previously thought, although there is a debate about the “economic value” of those years.(1)
“Economic value” translates into an estimate of the amount of spending that is economically justified to reduce air pollution. While life itself might have infinite value, no one wants to spend infinite money to preserve it. So we try to define how much money value there is in living to 90 as opposed to dying at 79. Under the theory, spending less than that money value to reduce air pollution is justified; spending more isn’t.
The challenge is that the European Union has set standards for air pollution reduction that some of its members are going to have difficulty meeting.
Needless to say, the European standards are more stringent than those in the US.
US rules: The US has standards for two types of particulate matter air pollution:
- PM10 : inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller. Maximum of 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air in any 24 hour period. This may be exceeded once per year on average over a three year period.
- PM2.5 : fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.(2) While the goal is 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, there may be readings of up to 35 micrograms per cubic meter in any 24 hour period.(3)
- PM10: 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air, although there may be readings of up to 50 micrograms in any 24 hour period.
- PM2.5 : 25 micrograms per cubic meter, no exceptions.
The difference in standards between the US and Europe exceeds the amount required to reduce life expectancy in Professor Andersen’s study. Life expectancy is greater in Europe than in the US. The residents of Monaco have a life expectancy that exceeds everyone else on Earth, and exceeds the US by more than 10 years.
What is 10 years of your life worth to you? Air pollution is yet another factor inflating US healthcare costs and the costs of your health insurance.
- Mikael Skou Andersen. Co-benefits of climate mitigation: Counting statistical lives or life-years? Ecological Indicators, 2017; 79: 11 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.03.051
- US Environmental Protection Agency, “Particulate Matter Pollution.” https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics
- US EPA, “NAAQS Table.” https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants/naaqs-table
- European Commission, “Air Quality Standards.” http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/quality/standards.htm