More than a million people died in one year due to fossil fuels, with half due to coal

coal fired power station silhouette at sunset, Pocerady, Czech republic
Coal power was responsible for half the deaths due to fossil fuels. (Getty)

More than a million people died worldwide due to burning fossil fuels in 2017, with half the deaths caused by coal, a study has found.

Researchers from around the world analysed the health effects of air pollution, and where it was coming from, in 200 countries.

They found that pollution from cars and industry is only part of the problem as PM2.5 – tiny particles that can go into people’s lungs – can make people unwell if they cook every night on a stove.

Professor Randall Martin, of Washington University in St. Louis, said: "PM2.5 is the world's leading environmental risk factor for mortality. Our key objective is to understand its sources."

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Scientists worked with data sources from around the world to analyse different sources of air pollution, from energy production to burning gas to dust storms.

Erin McDuffie, a visiting research associate, said that the central question was, "How many deaths are attributable to exposure to air pollution from specific sources?"

The team used information from satellites, combined with information about the relationship between PM2.5 and health outcomes from the Global Burden of Disease.

The data showed that cooking stoves and home-heating were still responsible for the release of particulate matter in many regions throughout Asia.

It also showed that energy generation remains a large polluter on the global scale, McDuffie said.

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She added: "Previous studies end up having to use different emissions data sets or models all together.

"We can more directly compare results between countries.

"We can even look at pollution sources in places that have implemented some mitigation measures, versus others that haven't to get a more complete picture of what may or may not be working."

The findings could offer useful insights into how to deal with pollution at a local level, the researchers said.

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In west sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, for instance, windblown dust accounted for nearly three-quarters of the particulate matter in the atmosphere, compared with the global rate of just 16%.

"Ultimately, it will be important to consider sources at the subnational scale when developing mitigation strategies for reducing air pollution," McDuffie said.

"The good news is that we may be providing some of the first information that these places have about their major sources of pollution. This provides them with a start."

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