Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough, say doctors. 92% are exposed to levels the WHO considers harmful

October 3, 2016

World Health Organization. “92% of the world’s population exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution.” ScienceDaily. 27 September 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160927144248.htm

A new WHO air quality model confirms that 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

Ninety-four per cent are due to noncommunicable diseases — notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

“Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations — women, children and the older adults,” adds 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, though blowing dust can be unhealthy too.

1 in 9 of total global deaths come 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.”

The interactive maps provide information on population-weighted exposure to particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) for all countries. The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for PM10 and PM2.5 values for about 3000 cities and towns.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” adds Dr Neira. “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.”

* WHO Ambient Air Quality Guidelines

WHO air quality model confirms that 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed “WHO’s Ambient Air quality guidelines” for annual mean of particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5). WHO guideline limits for annual mean of PM2.5 are 10 μg/m3 annual mean.

PM2.5 includes pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and in the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to human health.

Further information: http://www.who.int/phe/publications/air-pollution-global-assessment/en/