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7 million deaths annually linked to air pollution

25/03/14Health

Global: In newly released estimates, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that in 2012 around seven million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – 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 reveals 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.

Regionally, low and middle-income countries in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific 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 non-communicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director general of 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.”

The new estimates are based on the latest WHO mortality data from 2012 as well as evidence of health risks from air pollution exposures. Estimates of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were formulated through new global data mapping. This incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modelling of how pollution drifts in the air.

Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said: “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

The WHO said the data is a significant step in advancing a roadmap for preventing diseases related to air pollution.

Pan European Networks Ltd