A recent post (Air Pollution Can Kill You) discussed recent research that found that air pollution is linked to an overall increase in death rates, especially cardiovascular disease. But how many deaths each year are linked to air pollution? Recent research suggests that outdoor air pollution, mostly by fine particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), leads to 3.3 million premature deaths per year worldwide, predominantly in Asia. The number one cause worldwide is residential energy use such as heating and cooking, (India ,China, and the developing world).
But surprisingly agriculture or farming is number 2 worldwide. How can that be? Well, farms produce ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from vehicle exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers. The United States had about 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog. Power plants and traffic (vehicle emissions) are big sources of the air pollution linked to deaths in the USA. From Medical Xpress:
Millions of premature deaths tied to air pollution
Outdoor air pollution leads to more than 3 million premature deaths per year, primarily in Asia, according to a letter published online Sept. 16 in Nature.
Johannes Lelieveld, Ph.D., from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, and colleagues used a global atmospheric chemistry model to investigate the link between premature mortality and seven emission source categories in urban and rural environments. The researchers found that outdoor air pollution, mostly by fine particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), leads to 3.3 million premature deaths per year worldwide, predominantly in Asia. The largest impact on premature mortality globally comes from residential energy use such as heating and cooking, prevalent in India and China. In the United States, emissions from traffic and power generation are important. Agricultural emissions make the largest relative contribution to PM2.5 in the eastern United States, Europe, Russia, and East Asia, with the estimate of overall health impact depending on assumptions regarding particle toxicity.
Same topic, more discussion. From ABC News: Study: Air Pollution Kills 3.3 Million Worldwide, May Double
Air pollution is killing 3.3 million people a year worldwide, according to a new study that includes this surprise: Farming plays a large role in smog and soot deaths in industrial nations.....The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, used health statistics and computer models. About three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks, said lead author Jos Lelieveld at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany. The findings are similar to other less detailed pollution death estimates, outside experts said.
"About 6 percent of all global deaths each year occur prematurely due to exposure to ambient air pollution. This number is higher than most experts would have expected, say, 10 years ago," said Jason West, a University of North Carolina environmental sciences professor who wasn't part of the study but praised it. Air pollution kills more than HIV and malaria combined, Lelieveld said. With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000.
The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog, ranks seventh highest for air pollution deaths. What's unusual is that the study says that agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants. In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the No. 1 cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study. Worldwide, agriculture is the No. 2 cause with 664,100 deaths, behind the more than 1 million deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood and other biofuels in developing world.
The problem with farms is ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste, Lelieveld said. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said. In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said....In the central United States, the main cause of soot and smog premature deaths is power plants; in much of the West, it's traffic emissions.