New Insights for Tracking Global and Local Trends in Exposure to Air Pollutants

Daniel C. Esty, Michelle Bell and 8 other contributors

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    Over six million people die prematurely each year from exposure to air pollution. Current air quality metrics insufficiently monitor exposure to air pollutants. This gap hinders the ability of decisionmakers to address the public health impacts of air pollution. To spur new emissions control policies and ensure implemented solutions realize meaningful gains in environmental health, we develop a framework of public-health-focused air quality indicators that quantifies over 200 countries' trends in exposure to particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds. We couple population density to ground-level pollutant concentrations to derive population-weighted exposure metrics that quantify the pollutant levels experienced by the average resident in each country. Our analyses demonstrate that most residents in 171 countries experience pollutant levels exceeding international health guidelines. In addition, we find a negative correlation between temporal trends in ozone and nitrogen oxide concentrations, which-when qualitatively interpreted with a simple atmospheric chemistry box model-can help describe the apparent tradeoff between the mitigation of these two pollutants on local scales. These novel indicators and their applications enable regulators to identify their most critical pollutant exposure trends and allow countries to track the performance of their emission control policies over time.