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Study: Air Pollution From Climate Change Expected To Cause Premature Death

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Recently released research from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill projects that unchecked climate change will significantly impact premature deaths associated with air pollution.

Using computer models of the global climate system, researchers estimated that climate change, if left unadressed, is expected to cause roughly 60,000 additional deaths globally in the year 2030. The models also predicted 260,000 additional deaths in 2100.

Associate professor Jason West led the research at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health with former graduate student and first author Raquel Silva.  

West says global warming speeds up the chemical reactions that create air pollutants like ozone. Increased air pollution in turn is linked to premature death by heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.

"Air pollution is really important to health beyond what the public appreciates today," West said. "We estimate, in other work, that today there are about 4 million deaths each year that can be attributed to outdoor air pollution."

The study used multiple computer models to calculate how much climate change might impact those deaths. West and Silva found that five out of eight models predicted there will be more premature deaths in 2030 and seven out of nine models predicted a rise in 2100. West says those years are only snapshots, and deaths would also occur annually.

The UNC researchers say this is the most comprehensive study yet on how climate change could affect public health through air pollution.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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