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Association Observed in Spain Between Exposure to Air Pollution and a Significant Reduction in Life Expectancy

A study published in Environment International analyses data on air pollution and mortality throughout Spain for the first time

Photo: Photo: David Holt

A study led by ISGlobal scientists has contributed new evidence about the serious negative effect of air pollution on our health. Unlike earlier studies in Spain, which focussed on specific areas of the country, the authors of this study analysed data on mortality, air pollution and vegetation levels (greenness) nationwide between 2009 and 2013. Their findings have revealed that increases in levels of airborne pollution are linked to significant decreases in life expectancy.

The study, which was published in the journal Environment International, found that an increase of 5 μg/m3 in coarse particles (PM10) was associated with a decrease in life expectancy of almost a year. Similarly, an increase of 2 μg/m3 in fine particles (PM2.5) was associated with a reduction of seven months. Likewise, an analysis of standardized mortality rates showed the same increases in concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 to be associated with an increased mortality risk of 5.7% and 3.7%, respectively.

“Exposure to airborne pollutants had already been linked to increased mortality rates, but until now few authors had focussed on life expectancy and most only studied a specific area”, explains lead author and ISGlobal researcher Carmen de Keijzer.

In this nationwide small area study—carried out within the framework of the LIFE MED-HISS project—the researchers divided the whole country into 2,148 areas with at least 3,500 inhabitants in each, covering a total population of 44.5 million people.

The results regarding the effect of green spaces were contradictory. “Like the authors of earlier studies, we found that green spaces were associated with increased life expectancy in areas with a low socioeconomic profile; however, in more affluent areas they were associated with a reduction in life expectancy” explains Xavier Basagaña, the ISGlobal researcher who coordinated the study. “It is difficult to assess the impact of green spaces without more information about the type of space and how the population uses it,” he goes on to explain.

“In any case, the association between air pollution and mortality is clear and, even though more research is needed to clarify the influence of vegetation levels, it is clear that tackling the problem of air pollution should be a public health priority” concludes Basagaña.


de Keijzer C, Agis D, Ambrós A, Arévalo G, Baldasano JM, Bande S, Barrera-Gómez J, Benach J, Cirach M, Dadvand P, Ghigo S, Martinez-Solanas È, Nieuwenhuijsen M, Cadum E, Basagaña X; MED-HISS Study group. The association of air pollution and greenness with mortality and life expectancy in Spain: A small-area study. Environ Int. 2016 Nov 18. pii: S0160-4120(16)30755-3. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.11.009.