One in eight deaths in the world is because of air pollution exposure, according to the World Health Organization. In 2012, the simple act of breathing killed an estimated 7 million people who were exposed to air pollution on the streets and in their homes.
The WHO findings double previous estimates of the impact of air pollution, which the organization now calls the world largest environmental health risk. The data showed a much stronger link between air pollution (both indoors and out) and cardiovascular diseases, like strokes, and cancer. This is in addition to the known link between pollution and respiratory problems.
Air pollution is one of the greatest risks to global health, according to the WHO. Cleaning up the air, both indoors and out, will prevent millions of noncommunicable diseases and reduce the risks for the children and elderly, who are more vulnerable, Dr. Flavia Bustreo, who serves as assistant director-general for the WHO’s Family, Women and Children’s Health area, pointed out.
The scientists were able to conduct a more detailed analysis than previous studies because of growing knowledge about the diseases caused by exposure to air pollution and better tools to measure. They looked at a wider demographic spread and included rural areas, versus previous analysis that focused on urban areas. The new estimated used the latest WHO mortality data from 2012 and global data mapping from satellite data and pollution emission measurements from key sources. They also modeled how the pollution drifts in the air to look beyond the cities.
Several large cities in Asia, like Beijing, have terrible problems with external air pollution now. So, it is no surprise that the WHO data showed a large number of deaths in those areas. In the study, East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands were the most affected regions, with more than 5 million deaths among them. Of those deaths, it is estimated that 2.6 million were due to air pollution outdoors; the remainder were due to exposure to toxic indoor air.
The impact of indoor air pollution is a key finding in the new estimate that 7 million were killed because of regularly breathing in toxic air. The revised methodology linked 4.3 million deaths to indoor pollution, which affects women, children and the elderly in many countries who spend considerable time breathing in smoke from coal, dung and wood stoves in the home. The WHO estimated that 2.9 billion people live in homes where those stoves serve as the primary cooking tool. In India alone, 63 percent of the people cook using those fuels, which produce carbon monoxide and harmful particulate matter.
Based on the data, addressing the indoor problem is as important as cleaning up the air outside. The WHO indicates that the organization is working on indoor air quality guidelines that addresses household fuel use as well as developing more updated air quality measurements from 1,600 cities. They expect to release a WHO-hosted global platform on air pollution with the data and guidance later this year.
By Dyanne Weiss