TORONTO Smog-related deaths are set to soar to more than 700,000 in Canada over the next two decades, the Canadian Medical Association said on Wednesday.
Long- and short-term exposure to air pollution will kill at least 21,000 Canadians this year, the CMA said in landmark study into health costs of poor air quality. That is much higher than a government estimate of 5,900 premature deaths linked to pollution.
"This report shows that things don't seem to be getting better," Dr. Brian Day, the CMA's president, said in an interview.
"And in fact, in terms of the actual numbers, they seem to be getting worse," Day said.
The CMA estimates the costs of health care and lost productivity from air pollution will top C$8 billion ($7.5 billion) in 2008 and climb to C$250 billion by 2031.
Pollution-related illnesses such as asthma and cardiovascular disease will prompt more than 30,000 emergency-room visits and 620,000 doctor's visits this year, the report said.
In addition, more than 80 percent of those who die due to poor air quality will be over the age of 65.
"Canada has one of the highest percentages of baby boomers in the world, and in the next two or three years the baby boomers will hit 65," Day said.
The report paints a grim picture, but Day said he hopes the government will see it as a problem that can be reversed.
"Let's realize that we will get a return on our investment by investing even more in looking at reducing pollution," he said.
Canada is not alone in experiencing the health effects of air pollution.
At current pollution levels, an estimated 64,000 people die from causes attributed to particle air pollution each year in the United States, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental group.
Almost half of Europe's population may have been exposed to airborne concentrations of particle matter above the European Union limit, the European Environment Agency says.
The substances have reduced the average life expectancy of Europeans by more than eight months, the agency says.
The World Health Organization estimates at least 2 million people die each year prematurely from exposure to pollution.
(Reporting by Ashleigh Patterson; editing by Peter Galloway)