WHO: Air Pollution Caused 7 Million Deaths in 2012

Seven million people died as a result of air pollution in 2012, accounting for one in eight total global deaths, stated the World Health Organization (WHO). Its finding shattered previous estimates and sets air pollution as the largest individual environmental health risk on the planet.

“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” stated WHO Assistant Director Dr. Flavia Bustreo. “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,” she said.

While air pollution has been associated with the development of respiratory diseases, such as acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), WHO’s new data demonstrated a stronger connection between indoor and outdoor air pollution and cardiovascular disease, including strokes and ischaemic heart disease. In addition, a more significant link between air pollution and cancer was found. According to WHO, low and middle income countries in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific Region shared the biggest air pollution-related burden in 2012, accounting for 2.6 million deaths caused from outdoor air pollution and 3.3 million deaths from indoor air pollution.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” stated WHO Director Maria Neira. “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 breathe,” she said.

Of the total number of deaths caused by outdoor air pollution in 2012: 40 percent were from ischaemic heart disease; 40 percent were attributable to stroke; 11 percent were directly caused from COPD; six percent from lung cancer; and 3 percent were attributable to acute lower respiratory infections in children. Of the total number of deaths caused by indoor air pollution in 2012: 34 percent were caused from stroke; 26 percent from ischaemic heart disease; 22 percent from COPD; 12 percent from acute lower respiratory infections in children; and 6 percent from lung cancer.

“WHO and health sectors have a unique role in translating scientific evidence on air pollution into policies that can deliver impact and improvements that will save lives,” stated WHO Coordinator Dr. Carlos Dora. Later this year, the organization is expected to release: (1) indoor air quality guidelines regarding household fuel combustion; (2) country-specific data on indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and mortality; and (3) air quality measurement updates from 1600 cities all over the world.