Understanding Mortality Rates due to Air Pollution

air pollution

Air pollution is a common and unfortunate consequence of many lucrative manufacturing and natural resource industry activities worldwide. For the past few centuries, the majority of countries have prioritized economic gain over the negative health and environmental effects of these actions. With increasing technologies, researchers have elucidated the true cost of this economic gain on the health of citizens.


It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to understand that air pollution, commonly measured as “particulate matter”, has negative implications on health. During the Industrial Revolution, citizens looked to governments to protect them from this health threat even before it was a scientifically proven phenomenon. However, the race to produce and create jobs always took precedence, especially in countries participating in globalization later than the leading industrialized countries. The health of people in countries like China, Bangladesh, and India has suffered because of the air pollution that accompanies mass production.

As technologies progress and these “developing” countries catch up, citizens are pressuring their governments to reduce air pollution. A key to this reduction will be reliable, holistic data sets relating poor air quality to mortality. Truly understanding the threat that air pollution poses to the public necessitates the creation of adequate regulations limiting the emission of life-threatening particulate matter into the air. In the past, our ability to define the effect of particulate matter on mortality has been limited due to incomplete or regionally-focused data sets.

Researchers at Peking University (China) analyzed a year-long data set on one million people in one of the most air-polluted countries in the world- China. This broad assessment not only finds interesting relationships between air pollution and mortality, but serves as an excellent model to inform industries and governments around the world about how air pollution is burdening their respective healthcare systems.

By combining air monitoring station data and census mortality rates, researchers were able to determine a correlation between increasing particulate matter and mortality. Interestingly, they found particulate matter to have a stronger impact on people who were unmarried, female, and in their youth. The study also revealed that smaller particulate matter had a larger negative impact on health than larger particulate matter. The current theory is that the small particulate matter is able to easily enter the small pockets in the lungs (alveoli) where blood and air is exchanged.

While the researchers admit that the short-term nature of this study limits the strength of the conclusions drawn, the platform of measurement they have created will be paramount in setting healthy air quality standards. Because of this emerging data, governments can begin to understand the true cost of air pollution and balance the health risks with continuing economic benefits.




Association between fine ambient particulate matter and daily total mortality: An analysis from 160 communities of China. Original Research Article. Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 599–600, 1 December 2017, Pages 108-113

Guoxing Li, , Ming Xue, , Qiang Zeng, , Yue Cai, , Xiaochuan Pan, , Qun Meng,


Written By: Soleil Grisé, HBSc