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Home fires, farm fumes are leading causes of air-pollution deaths

Surprising airborne suspects have researchers questioning if all pollution is equally deadly

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1:06pm, September 16, 2015
air pollution death map

FATAL FUMES  The number of deaths caused by air pollution varies across the globe, researchers found using satellite data and a computer simulation. The color coding, indicating few deaths (gray) to many (red), shows the highest mortality in some parts of Asia.

There’s no doubt air pollution is a killer, causing more than 3 million deaths worldwide each year. But the top culprits behind the deadly air may come as a surprise.

Particles from small-scale energy use, mainly household fires for cooking and heating, are the leading cause of air-pollution deaths in many areas of Asia, researchers report in the Sept. 17 Nature. But in the northeastern United States, Russia and Europe, agricultural fumes from livestock and fertilizer were the deadliest types of air pollution, the researchers found. In these areas, small-scale energy use and agriculture beat out the more expected suspects: traffic and power plant pollution.

A different group of researchers found that recent reductions in Amazon forest fires save hundreds of lives each year on the continent. The finding appears September 16 in Nature Geoscience

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