Maximpact Blog

WHO: Air Pollution Kills Millions

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Fine particles hang in the air over Shanghai, China, 2009 (Photo by Lei Han) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 27, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution, and indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths – 11.6 percent of all deaths worldwide – were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together, finds new research by the World Health Organization.

Nearly 90 percent of these air pollution deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, and nearly two out of three occur in WHO’s Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Regions.

Ninety-four percent of these deaths are due to noncommunicable diseases – cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

Today, the World Health Organization issued an air quality model confirming that 92 percent of the world’s people live in places where air pollution levels exceed WHO limits.

 In the most detailed air pollution health data, by country, ever reported by WHO, the study maps exposure to fine particle pollution, also called particulate matter or PM2.5, a mixture of solids and liquid droplets floating in the air.

Interactive maps  show not only countries, but areas within countries where outdoor, or ambient, air pollution is higher that WHO’s Ambient Air Quality Guidelines for exposure to fine particulates.

The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for both coarse particulate (PM10) and fine particulate (PM2.5) values for about 3,000 cities and towns.

The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, assistant director general at WHO.

Developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom, the model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3,000 locations, both rural and urban.

Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” said Dr. Bustreo. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.

Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.

However, WHO reminds us, not all air pollution originates from human activity. Air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

The model has calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability. National air pollution exposures were analyzed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km.

This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than six million deaths – one in nine of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

More and more cities are monitoring air pollution now, satellite data is more comprehensive, and we are getting better at refining the related health estimates,” Dr. Neira explained.

Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” she urged. “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.

In September 2015, world leaders set a target within the Sustainable Development Goals of substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from air pollution by 2030.

 In May 2016, WHO approved a new roadmap for accelerated action on air pollution and its causes. The roadmap calls upon the health sector to increase monitoring of air pollution locally, assess the health impacts of exposure to polluted air and to assume a greater leadership role in national policies that affect air pollution.

This fall WHO is rolling out BreatheLife , a global communications campaign to increase public awareness of air pollution as a major health and climate risk.

BreatheLife is led by WHO in partnership with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate pollutants, hosted by the UN Environment Programme.

The campaign stresses two kinds of practical policies. Cities can implement policies such as: better housing, transport, waste and energy systems. As communities or individuals, people can take actions such as: ending waste burning, promoting green spaces and walking or cycling to improve air quality.


Featured Image: Campaigners from Friends of the Earth Scotland gather on Nicolson Street in Edinburgh to demand clean air after the zone failed to meet Scottish Air Quality Safety Standards, August 25, 2015. (Photo by Friends of the Earth Scotland) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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