Air pollution, now the world’s single largest environmental risk
The World Health Organization today released mortality data from 2012 estimating that around 7 million people (one person in eight) died globally that year as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution's role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas.
Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.
"Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children's Health. "Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves."
Included in the assessment is a breakdown of deaths attributed to specific diseases, underlining that the vast majority of air pollution deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases as follows:
Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths — breakdown by disease:
40% — ischaemic heart disease;
40% — stroke;
11% — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
6% - lung cancer; and
3% — acute lower respiratory infections in children.
Indoor air pollution-caused deaths — breakdown by disease:
34% - stroke;
26% - ischaemic heart disease;
22% - COPD;
12% - acute lower respiratory infections in children; and
6% - lung cancer.
Estimates of people's exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were formulated through a new global data mapping. This incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modeling of how pollution drifts in the air.
Read more at the World Health Organization.
Boy wearing a mask in China image via Shutterstock.