A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that air pollution kills an estimated seven million people annually, making it the single largest environmental health risk in the world. The report shows that the number of deaths, linked to air pollution, is more than double compared to previous estimates.
Scientists have found a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution and cardiovascular diseases, including strokes and ischaemic heart disease, but they also revealed they found a stronger link between air pollution and cancer.
According to the WHO, low- and middle-income countries are mostly affected by air pollution. In Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific Regions, 2.6 million deaths were related to outdoor air pollution and an estimated 3.3 million deaths were caused by indoor air pollution, suggesting that outdoor air pollution is not the only health risk. Dr. Flavia Bustreo of the WHO says, “Poor women and children are even more affected by indoor air pollution than men, because they generally spend more time at home and they breathe in more smoke from coal and wood cook stoves. If we could clean up the air, we could prevent many diseases, not only for women, but also for other vulnerable groups.”
For the new report, the WHO looked into the link between air pollution and various diseases. With 40 percent of deaths, the findings show that outdoor air pollution is strongly linked to ischaemic heart disease. Strokes were strongly linked to indoor air pollution, with 34 percent of deaths in 2012. Both indoor and outdoor air pollution are also linked to acute lower respiratory infections in children, with indoor air pollution showing the strongest link with 12 percent.
Although it was previously not thought that air pollution is the largest environmental health risk, the report, showing that it kills an estimated seven million people annually, is alarming to many. Dr. Maria Neira is Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health and says, “Air pollution poses a much larger risk than previously understood and the report also shows insights as to why the incidences of heart diseases and strokes continue to rise. There are few things that have a greater impact on public health and the report calls for concerted action to clean up the air we breathe.”
Now that the new report is released, the WHO is getting ready to take further action to reduce the number of deaths, related to air pollution. Dr. Carlos Dora of the WHO says, “In sectors like transport, energy and waste management, excessive air pollution is a by-product of poor policies and a better strategy will eventually turn out to be more economical due to lower health care costs as well as climate gains. The WHO has a crucial role in translating this scientific evidence into policies to save lives around the globe.”
The release of today’s report, showing it kills an estimated seven million people annually, is a significant step in WHO’s roadmap for preventing numerous diseases linked to air pollution. The WHO will continue to work on air quality guidelines, which will be released later this year.
By Diana Herst