How Rising Air Pollution Affects Your Life Expectancy?

Isn’t it shocking that an average Indian life is reduced by more than five years due to air pollution? This drastic drop in life expectancy speaks out loudly about the alarming levels of outdoor air pollution in the nation.

Researchers have identified fossil-fuel generated air pollution as a significant global health risk factor. Every year, millions of premature deaths occur due to air pollution, and this damage is much greater than deaths caused by smoking and diseases.

In this article, we will discuss about particulate matter, sources of particulate pollution, and AQLI (Air Quality Life Index).

Why is Particulate Matter So Dangerous?

Cruising through the 21st century, particulate matter (PM) remains the greatest threat to human health globally. The particulate matter air pollution reduces the global life expectancy by nearly two years.

Particulate matter air pollution is regarded as the most lethal form of air pollution. The particulate matter comprises microscopic particles that are breathed into the lungs and penetrated deep into the alveoli. Eventually, these particles enter the bloodstream.

These microscopic particles bypass the natural defence system and immunity of the body. As a result, these particles cause lung diseases, heart attacks, cancer, strokes, detrimental cognitive functions, etc.

What are the Sources of Particulate Pollution?

The major source of particulate pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels. However, most of the PM2.5 pollution is produced due to human activities, and a small proportion result from natural sources like wildfires, dust, and sea salt.

Fossil fuel combustion remains the leading global source of man-made PM2.5 that generates particulates via three distinct pathways.

The burning of coal in coal-powered industrial facilities and power plants generate sulfur dioxide gas. This gas reacts with oxygen and atmospheric ammonia to produce sulfate particulates.

Vehicular combustion and power plants combustion at high temperatures releases nitrogen dioxide. This reacts with atmospheric oxygen and ammonia to produce nitrate particulates.

The incomplete combustion in coal-powered plants, diesel engines, and household coal burning produces black carbon that serves as a component of PM2.5.

Apart from fossil fuel combustion, biofuels like wood and crop residue for household heating and cooking also generate PM2.5. The burning of biofuels releases organic particulates and black carbon into the air.

Moreover, the burning of biomass, including forests and crop residue for clearing land for agriculture, causes anthropogenic particulate pollution.

What is AQLI (Air Quality Life Index)?

Air Quality Life Index is a novel advancement technology designed for measuring and communicating the health risks caused by particulate matter air pollution. It converts particulate air pollution into an important metric; its impact on life expectancy.

The AQLI states that particulate matter air pollution reduces global life expectancy by nearly two years in comparison to particulate concentrations level everywhere that are deemed safe by the WHO (World Health Organization).

As per the data released by AQLI (air quality life index), about 25% of Indians are exposed to pollution level unseen in any other nation. The findings of AQLI state that particulate pollution has increased by 42% in India in the previous two decades.

AQLI report points out that our entire population is exposed to pollution levels exceeding the WHO guidelines, with 84% of Indians residing in areas where the pollution level exceeds the permissible levels of the country.


As per AQLI reports, the reduction of life expectancy makes particulate pollution more deadly than other communicable diseases or behavioural killers like cigarette smoking.

However, this report also suggests that if we can cut fossil fuel emissions to zero, we can increase the life expectancy by more than a year.

Moreover, if we cut all the controllable air pollution, excluding natural wildfires or wind-born dust, we can increase global life expectancy by more than 20 months.

Our government launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) program in 2019 to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30% compared to 2017 levels by 2024. If we can achieve this target, it would lead to remarkable health improvements.

If we can reduce the particulate pollution levels by 25%, it would increase the life expectancy of Indians by 1.6 years and that of Delhi residents by 3.1 years. Still, the target seems to be far away, and we need stringent policy measures to achieve it.

Megha Kothari

Megha leads the content strategy and oversees an amazing team of writers, editors, and designers, all having one goal in mind – to create brilliant content that helps people make the right purchase investment. When she is not working, you can find her enjoying making delicious food and planning her next travel.

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