The air you breathe is something that you take for granted, right? It’s there, sometimes a little less than fresh if you’re walking past an idling car, but so it goes…
Here’s the rough news: One in eight deaths around the world has been linked to exposure to air pollution.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released in March, of the million deaths that occur annually – those related to aggravated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases, as well as respiratory allergies, can be attributed to air pollution.
WHO’s figure more than doubles previous estimates of annual air pollution-related deaths. That makes air pollution the world’s largest risk to environmental health.
The new figures are more accurate than previous estimates, because technology allows for more efficient measurements of human exposure to air pollution. It combines satellite and pollution emissions data, ground-level monitoring and modeling of how pollution drifts into the air.
“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, told Medical News Today.
“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.”
Air pollution happens when a chemical, physical or biological agent adversely affects the atmosphere. The worst offender? Unsustainable policies in the transport, energy and waste management sectors have led to “excessive air pollution” around the world, WHO pointed out. The countries with the most air pollution were the low- and middle-income countries in the southeast Asia and western Pacific regions.
In all, more than 3.3 million deaths were associated with indoor air pollution in these countries, while 2.6 million deaths were related to outdoor air pollution. Among the most vulnerable groups are children, women and the elderly.
Meanwhile, air quality in the United States has sharply improved since the passage of the country’s Clean Air Act in 1970. For one thing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), releases air quality forecasts daily as part of a national Air Quality Forecasting Capability. Control technologies and urban planning strategies have helped, too. Things like the use of bioethanol fuel, biodiesel, solar energy and hybrid vehicles. While these greener options may have high upfront costs, the long-term payback is significant.
Still, many parts of the U.S. are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution, which is responsible for an estimated 50,000 premature deaths every year, according to the EPA.
Of course, the link between air pollution and respiratory disease-related deaths has been well documented. But WHO’s findings now show an even stronger connection between air pollution and a host of other serious and terminal conditions.
Hmmm. Might be time to do your part and consider driving a Prius.