By Nadia Prupis
More than 90 percent of people on the planet live in places where
levels are dangerously high, and millions of people are dying as a result of the exposure, according to new
from the World Health Organization (WHO) released Tuesday.
A polluted Christmas Day at Anyang Normal University, China.
Using an air quality model based on satellite data and other ground and air monitors in 3,000 locations, the WHO
that fully 92 percent of people worldwide live in regions where the pollution exceeds the organization’s safety limits.
“To date, air pollution—both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor)—is the biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually,” the report states. “Air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, and affects economies and people’s quality of life; it is a public health emergency.”
The organization created an
showing where in the world, both in rural and urban areas, the air is contaminated by toxins that can seep into the lungs and cause cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, among other illnesses.
Screenshot of WHO’s interactive map of global ambient air pollution.
World Health Organization
The majority of those locations are in developing counties, largely in the regions of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, with “vulnerable populations” at a particularly high risk, the report states. More than 6 million people
die every year
due to exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to an International Energy Agency
released in June.
“Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations—women, children and the older adults,”
WHO assistant director general Dr. Flavia Bustreo. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.”
Much of the pollution is human-caused, created through household waste and
, industrial activities and
coal-fired power plants
, the report states. Particulate matter that emanate from those activities like black carbon, sulphates, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, and mineral dust and water can penetrate and coat the lungs and cause health issues with even short-term exposure. (Other air pollution can have natural causes, such as dust in the air in regions near deserts.)
Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director of the Department of Public Health, Environment, and Social Determinants of Health, said the new data confirms there is no time to waste to address toxins in the atmosphere.
“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” Neira said. “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.”
The new data follows recent studies linking air pollution to everything from
. In the U.S., air pollution is especially high in
minority and low-income communities
, which a study published in
Social Science Research
last year referred to as “sacrifice zones.”
Increasing and improving studies of dangerous air pollution, particularly in low-income areas, is “crucial” to curtailing its toxic impacts, the WHO said. And strengthening the capacity of developing cities to “monitor their air quality with standardized methods, reliable and good quality instrumentation, is key,” the report concludes.
Reposted with permission from our media associate