Pollution that kills “not a local issue anymore”
washington » A study that measures the human toll of air pollution from global manufacturing and trade shows how buying goods made far away can lead to premature deaths both there and close to home.
More than 750,000 people die prematurely from dirty air every year that is generated by making goods in one location that will be sold elsewhere, about one- fifth of the 3.45 million premature deaths from air pollution. The study says 12 percent of those deaths, about 411,000 people, are a result of air pollution that has blown across national borders.
“It’s not a local issue anymore,” said study co- author Dabo Guan, an economist at the University of East Anglia in England. “It requires global cooperation.”
It has long been known that that the environmental burden of manufacturing often falls heaviest on countries where companies set up shop to take advantage of low labor costs and relatively loose environmental regulations.
But this is the first study to bring together economic, manufacturing, trade, atmospheric and health data to calculate the number and location of premature deaths from air pollution.
It found that people in Western Europe buying goods made elsewhere were linked to 173,000 overseas air pollution deaths a year, while United States consumption was linked to just more than 100,000 deaths, according to the study published in Wednesday’s journal Nature.
What that looks like in China: 238,000 deaths a year associated with production of goods that are bought or consumed elsewhere. That number is 106,000 deaths in India and 129,000 deaths in the rest of Asia.
“We have a role in the quality of the air in those areas,” study co- author Steven Davis, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Irvine, said in an interview. “We’re taking advantage of our position as consumers, distant consumers.”
Still, the study says three- quarters of the 1 million air pollution deaths in China— and the nearly half a million deaths in India — are from production of goods that are consumed locally.