I've heard time and again that living in São Paulo (a large city in Brasil) takes 1.5 years from your life expectancy. The allegation is that this happens because of air pollution.

I am just wondering how air pollution harms humans. Is the effect cumulative? Or is it a more immediate effect that makes the elderly die sooner?

  • $\begingroup$ also: is there a better place for this question on the stack exchange network ? $\endgroup$ – josinalvo Jul 26 '12 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's fine for here, I removed the part about wanting to live there, as I think that doesn't have any bearing on the answer. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Jul 26 '12 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ that's an interesting question, I've read once that the biggest concentration of centenarian was in Hong-kong, but they may have also more wealth and resources than people leaving in forests. But like you I wish I could live far away from that pollution cars/smokers/... $\endgroup$ – caub Sep 11 '13 at 21:58

The main factors of urban air pollution are nitric oxides, carbon monoxide, and what is called in german "Feinstaub" (very small carbon-rich particles from diesel exhaust). However, do not forget heavy metals: street dust is especially metal-rich and is swept into the soil near the streets where children and farmed plants can take it up. Lead is a heavy metal that can be breathed in with the air. Last not least noise over a certain threshold is proven to be a cause of illness, even loss of life time (10 years near an airport, if I recall correctly, but airport noise is getting better while machines become more fuel-efficient).

To answer your question one would have to look at every single factor. Lead accumulates in bones and destroys your brain. I just see Brazil banned it too in the 80's so this one killer is no more.


I have found a meta-study that reviews about 80 papers on the subject, especially the Sao Paulo studies, so this should fit exactly your questions: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3093800/

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  • $\begingroup$ Those 3 are the main problems, then ? Which of those would fit the "cumulative effect" idea, and which would fit the "harms the elderly" ? $\endgroup$ – josinalvo Jul 27 '12 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ Please see the link I have added $\endgroup$ – R Stephan Jul 28 '12 at 7:47

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