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Who is legally responsible for deaths caused by air pollution?


A person’s death is deemed unnatural when it is the result of an external force. This definition, however, does not apply when the cause of death is a respiratory or cardiovascular process triggered by a high concentration of an air pollutant, even if other deaths from toxicological causes (poisonings, overdoses, etc.) are. The distinction between natural and unnatural cause of death, although not internationally standardized, is critical in determining wrongfulness and liability, which in turn can have financial and/or legal repercussions. Even though the World Health Organization and other medical and scientific organizations have shown that air pollution contributes to several million deaths every year, there are currently no practical means to determine whether a person was subjected to high concentrations of atmospheric pollution before their death; indeed, the ability to find evidence of this type of exposition could prove very interesting from a forensic standpoint.

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Correspondence to Ana Santurtún.

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Santurtún, A., Villar, A. & Zarrabeitia, M.T. Who is legally responsible for deaths caused by air pollution?. Int J Biometeorol 62, 2063–2064 (2018).

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  • Air pollution
  • Mortality
  • Liability
  • Evidences