Air pollution hurts Canadians' life expectancy, says UBC study


Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered that even low levels of air pollution — below national air quality guidelines — are associated with an increased risk of death in Canada.

According to a study published this week in a Health Effects Institute report, there is no safe level of air pollution when it comes to Canadians' health outcomes.

"Somewhere around 10,000 people are dying prematurely from air pollution every year in Canada," said Michael Brauer, the study's lead author and a professor at the university's School of Population and Public Health. "It's bigger than the impacts of motor vehicle collisions. It's bigger than the impact from alcohol abuse."

Brauer says researchers found at least a five per cent increase in the risk of death when comparing high- and low-pollution areas in Canada.

Even though Canada is one of the few countries that meets World Health Organization air quality guidelines, he says the results are concerning because most Canadians live in more polluted areas, such as large urban centres.

Brauer refers to air pollution as a "silent killer" — even though its effects aren't obvious, when combined with other factors and health risks, they have a big impact.

"Air pollution affects many of the main causes of death already," he said. "If somebody dies of a heart attack we actually never know exactly what the cause of that heart attack is, or even of the heart disease that developed that led them to be susceptible to that heart attack."