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Shocking new study finds exposure to everyday factor is comparable to smoking cigarettes: '96% of the population [is] unsafe'

Much of the United States is still breathing in unsafe amounts.

Much of the United States is still breathing in unsafe amounts.

Photo Credit: iStock

Breathing dirty air (particularly the fine particulates) is harder on our life expectancies than alcohol use or drinking unsafe water, according to a shocking new report from the University of Chicago's Air Quality Life Index. 

It's a health risk that even ravages lifespans in a manner equivalent to smoking

Astoundingly, if we cleaned up the air globally to meet World Health Organization standards, we'd save 17.8 billion life years collectively, according to the index. 

What's the problem? 

Pollution that contains minuscule particles is wreaking havoc on world population health. The index lists an air quality report for various countries and regions. The United States's air has significantly improved since 1970's Clean Air Act, but much of the country's population is still breathing pollution, according to index experts.  

"The latest scientific evidence on the impact of pollution at even the low levels that exist in much of the United States reveals that 96% of the population [is] living in areas with unsafe levels of pollution," the report states

Southeast Asia is one of the worst areas in the world for air pollution. Nearly all of the region's 673.7 million residents are breathing air that exceeds WHO pollution limits, the index reports. 

In Nigeria, air pollution is shortening lives with an impact comparable to malaria and unsafe water. The index claims the average Nigerian's lifespan is cut short by about 1.8 years, relative to what it would be if WHO air quality guidelines were met. 

Where does particle pollution come from? 

The particles can be solid or liquid droplets created from a multitude of human activities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that construction sites, unpaved roads, smokestacks, and fires create particle pollution. Traffic exhaust, fuel, and waste burning are also sources

Even everyday tasks like cooking and vacuuming can create tiny lung troublers. 

"Because of their small size, fine particles outdoors can penetrate into homes and buildings. Therefore, high outdoor particle pollution levels can elevate indoor particle pollution concentrations," the EPA reports

What's being done to help?

Support for legislation like the Clean Air Act (it extended average U.S. life expectancy by an estimated 1.4 years) and other measures that encourage countries to meet WHO standards will lengthen lifespans, the index states. 

Innovations like a large outdoor air purifier developed in India may be part of the future for fresh breathing in urban areas. 

Using air purifiers at home can control the air quality in your domain. It's also important to clean and maintain filters on your air conditioners and appliances so you aren't needlessly contributing to the particle count in the air. 

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