Transboundary health impacts of transported global air pollution and international trade

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Abstract

The transboundary health impacts of air pollution associated with the international trade of goods and services are greater than those associated with long-distance atmospheric pollutant transport.

Millions of people die every year from diseases caused by exposure to outdoor air pollution1,2,3,4,5. Some studies have estimated premature mortality related to local sources of air pollution6,7, but local air quality can also be affected by atmospheric transport of pollution from distant sources8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18. International trade is contributing to the globalization of emission and pollution as a result of the production of goods (and their associated emissions) in one region for consumption in another region14,19,20,21,22. The effects of international trade on air pollutant emissions23, air quality14 and health24 have been investigated regionally, but a combined, global assessment of the health impacts related to international trade and the transport of atmospheric air pollution is lacking. Here we combine four global models to estimate premature mortality caused by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution as a result of atmospheric transport and the production and consumption of goods and services in different world regions. We find that, of the 3.45 million premature deaths related to PM2.5 pollution in 2007 worldwide, about 12 per cent (411,100 deaths) were related to air pollutants emitted in a region of the world other than that in which the death occurred, and about 22 per cent (762,400 deaths) were associated with goods and services produced in one region for consumption in another. For example, PM2.5 pollution produced in China in 2007 is linked to more than 64,800 premature deaths in regions other than China, including more than 3,100 premature deaths in western Europe and the USA; on the other hand, consumption in western Europe and the USA is linked to more than 108,600 premature deaths in China. Our results reveal that the transboundary health impacts of PM2.5 pollution associated with international trade are greater than those associated with long-distance atmospheric pollutant transport.

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