News / Health

Millions Die Every Year From Air Pollution

A man and his dog, both wearing masks, walk along a small alley on a hazy day in Beijing, February 23, 2014.
A man and his dog, both wearing masks, walk along a small alley on a hazy day in Beijing, February 23, 2014.
Lisa Schlein
The World Health Organization reports air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. A new report finds seven million people died from exposure to air pollution in 2012, more than double the number previously estimated in 2008.

 Air pollution is a global problem; the World Health Organization reports one in eight people around the world die from air pollution.  

It says new data show people exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution die prematurely from cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as chronic pulmonary diseases and cancer.

The World Health Organization reports most deaths from air pollution occur in low-and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, where about half the world’s population cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves.  
AIR POLLUTION DEATHS

Outdoor air pollution
 40% - Ischemic heart disease
 40% - Stroke
 11% - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
 6% - Lung cancer
 3% - Acute lower respiratory infections in children

Indoor air pollution
34% - Stroke
26% - Ischemic heart disease
22% - COPD
12% - Acute lower respiratory infections in children
6% - Lung cancer

Source: WHO
Health officials say the use of coal and biomass fuels, such as wood, animal dung and crop waste is responsible for 4.2 million people dying prematurely in 2012.  They link an additional 3.7 million deaths in urban and rural areas to outdoor air pollution.

WHO Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health coordinator, Dr. Carlos Dora, said clean air cannot be bought in a bottle.  

“To resolve this issue, it is quite important that countries, nations take action, which is more or less coordinated and the reason for that is the air shared-small particles travel thousands of kilometers, normally around the hemisphere traveling east. So pollution in one country will affect a number of other countries downwind," said Dora.

Dora said air pollution used to be worse in developed than in developing countries. But he says developed countries, notably the United Kingdom, and United States have taken action, which has dramatically reduced air pollution during the past decade.

“We know those interventions work on energy especially. On transportation, better engines, cleaner fuels, more efficient energy technologies, reduction in the need for the use of energy, insulation of houses, etc. Clean energy, solar, wind, energy that does not use combustion is better than those that do use combustion," he said.

Dora said in most cases healthier air pollution strategies will be more economical in the long run because health care costs will go down.

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