Study Estimates 8,000 Premature Deaths Per Year Caused by Unregulated Airplane Emissions

Image: ACS, Barrett et al.
And That's Just Cruise Emissions
Researchers from MIT and the University of Cambridge in the UK have released a study that attributes about 8,000 premature deaths to emissions from airplanes at cruise altitudes. Landing and takeoff also produce a significant quantity of pollutants, but they are already regulated, while cruising at altitudes of over 3,000 feet isn't (at least not worldwide).
Photo: Flickr, CC

"Aircraft emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx), which react with gases already existing in the atmosphere to form harmful fine particulate matter. This study research provides the first estimate of premature deaths attributable to aircraft emissions at cruise altitudes; current regulatory practice is to account only for landing and takeoff cycle (LTO) emissions--conventionally up to an altitude of 3000 ft or approximately 1 km." Indeed, "even though 90% of aircraft fuel is burned at cruise altitudes, only the pollutants that are emitted during takeoff and landing are regulated by measuring emissions during tests."

To put the scale of the problem of air pollution in perspective, these 8,000 premature deaths - while a tragedy - are only about 1% of the total.

In 2004, the World Health Organization estimated that about one million deaths per year are caused by air pollution, and several epidemiological studies have linked air pollution to the development of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer. Those studies tracked thousands of adults over many years to measure their exposure to air pollution while monitoring their health. Once the data were statistically analyzed to correct for other risk factors like smoking, the results indicated that increased exposure to fine particulate matter caused by air pollution is linked to health problems like chronic bronchitis and decreased lung function, as well as premature death.

While there might be more urgent sources of air pollution to deal with, this study shows that flying at altitudes of over 3,000 isn't as benign as once thought.

Via MIT News, GCC
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Tags: Air Pollution