Native Village
Youth and Education news
 December 1, 2010, Volume 3

Plane Exhaust Kills More People Than Plane Crashes
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World Airline Routes

There's a new reason to be afraid of flying. While airplane crashes kill about 1,000 people each year, plane emissions kill about 10,000.

Scientists had assumed people were harmed only by plane emissions during take offs and landings.  New research proves otherwise.

"We found that unregulated emissions from [planes flying] above 3,000 feet  were responsible for most of the deaths," said Steven Barrett, an aeronautical engineer from MIT.

Airplane exhaust contains air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Many of these pollution particles are smaller than the width of a human hair. These tiny particles are the main cause of human health problems. They  become wedged deep in the lungs and may enter the bloodstream.

Barrett and colleagues used a computer model to determine flight paths, how much fuel was burned, and the estimated emissions.  The computer captured pollution movements in the atmosphere. Then they tracked how and where plane pollutants move and when they fall to earth.

The study also looked at human populations around the planet. Then they estimated how pollution patterns increase deaths. They believe:

About 8,000 people across the world die every year from planes cruising about 35,000 feet.
2,000 die from pollution emitted during takeoffs and landings.
espiratory and cardiovascular diseases are the most common causes of death. This include lung cancer.
Areas near the most active airports don't always suffer the biggest health impacts. Wind currents and prevailing winds whisk the upper level pollution about 6,000 miles east of the plane's route. 
Americans suffer about 4
50 deaths each year from airplane emissions. If the planes' pollution fell straight to the ground, the death rate would be 7 times greater.
India has an estimated 1,640 deaths per year from airplane emissions. Most are caused by emissions in Europe and North America. These emissions spread at high altitudes,  and then blow across Asia.

Airplane pollution death rates are small compare to other sources. Emissions from ships kill almost 60,000 peopleAir pollution deaths are about 1,000,000 each year.

But Barrett says we must curb pollution from airplanes now..  "Aviation is growing fast ..."  he says. "Regulators need to explicitly consider the impact of cruise emissions on human health," he added.

If scientists verify these results in future studies,  the aviation agency says it will consider regulations on airplane emissions.

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