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Expand chart
Data: Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

Globally, air pollution reduces average life expectancy by 1.8 years, according to a new index developed by the University of Chicago. The metric, known as the Air Quality Life Index, or AQLI, attempts to clearly indicate how emissions of tiny particles, called particulates, are having an affect on people's health worldwide.

Why it matters: The report comes at a time when millions in California are being forced to wear protective masks to shield themselves from particulate pollution originating from the state's deadly wildfires. It also comes at the height of smog season in India, a country that ranks high on the list of most-affected nations, according to the new index.

The big picture: Based on the AQLI, which was developed on peer-reviewed studies but has not itself been published in a scientific journal, particulate pollution is the single greatest threat to human health worldwide with regard to life expectancy. It shaves more years off people's lives on average than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and smoking cigarettes, according to the authors of the new report.

  • Particulate pollution chiefly comes from burning fossil fuels for energy.
  • The biggest health threat from power plants, factories and vehicles is what's known as fine particulate matter, or PM2.5 — particles that are so small they can easily be breathed in and lodged deep into the lungs.
  • Such particles can cause cardiovascular problems, aggravate pre-existing conditions like asthma, and increase mortality from cancer and heart disease.

Details: Researchers created the AQLI in order to better translate traditional warnings of poor air quality into public health impacts.

“The AQLI tells citizens and policymakers how particulate pollution is affecting them and their communities and reveals the benefits of policies to reduce particulate pollution. It takes particulate air pollution concentrations and converts them into perhaps the most important metric that exists — life expectancy.”
— Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, in a press release
  • According to the newly developed index, people in India would live 4.3 years longer if their country met clean air guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Doing so would move the country's average life expectancy from 69 to 73.
  • In the U.S., the report found that about one-third of the country's population lives in areas that are not in compliance with WHO guidelines, and that U.S. citizens would live up to a year longer if they were brought into alignment with those figures.

Go deeper: Wildfires cause more than breathing problems across California

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.

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