Copenhagen has been struggling with air pollution for many years now. Pollution from lorries, vans, busses, and cars each year costs lives. Now research conducted by the University of Copenhagen and a series of collaborators shows that the average lifespan of Copenhagen could be increased by an entire year in 2040 if the level of pollution was reduced to the level found in the countryside.

'Of course, this reveals to the decision-makers the potential if they were to really do something about the air pollution. Copenhageners can live longer lives because fewer would get sick and die from diseases that we know are caused by air pollution, among other things', says Associate Professor Henrik Brønnum-Hansen. 

The researchers have used advanced models to simulate the effect of air pollution on the population. The model named 'DYNAMO-HIA' uses data from large population surveys on health, pollution calculations for the individual streets based on traffic patterns and register data on the address, contact with the hospitals and mortality. They are able to simulate the health consequences for Copenhagen with great accuracy.

Demanding, but Possible to Improve Health

The pollution studied by the researchers is called nitrogen dioxide or NO2, which is emitted together with ultrafine particles from diesel vehicles in particular. It is a well-known fact that that particle pollution increases the risk of diseases like lung cancer, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. However, the traditional method for evaluating health effects underestimates the effect of traffic.

The researchers have painted a lot more accurate picture by looking at NO2, which is closely connected to all the health effects in Danish surveys, even though some of the effects are caused by particles. The level of pollution in Copenhagen is approximately three times as high as the level measured at a measuring station just outside the city of Roskilde.

'Of course our scenario is ambitious, because it requires more or less requires polluting vehicles to be removed from Copenhagen. But if you want to prevent a large number of cases of disease and increase the average lifespan by an entire year, you need to do something drastic – and 2040 is way to the future, so it is not unrealistic ', says co-author of the study.

The health consequences are determined for a series of diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, lung cancer, COPD and asthma. In addition to the extra year of life, the study also points to other health advantages to reducing air pollution. For example, by 2040 the number of men who had cardiovascular disease could be reduced by 680 per 100,000 men, the number of women suffering from COPD could be reduced by 650 per 100,000 women if nitrogen dioxide pollution in the city was reduced.

Higher Quality of Life

The researchers emphasized that in addition to an extra year of life, Copenhagen would also experience higher quality of life following a large reduction in pollution. In addition to the very ambitious goal, the researchers have also calculated a scenario where air pollution is reduced by 20%. The result is an increased average lifespan of 0-3-0.5 years.

'If the politicians are not ready to conduct a full phase-out, naturally we would be happy to provide them with other calculations of the health consequences to reduce the level of pollution and increase the quality of life as much as possible', Steffen Loft stresses