Some 7 million deaths in 2012 – or one in eight total worldwide – were the result of air pollution exposure, a World Health Organization report to be released on Tuesday reveals.
These findings more than double previous estimates and confirm that air pollution has become “the world’s largest single environmental health risk,” the WHO report said. There are strong links between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, cancer and respiratory diseases, the data revealed.
As far as indoor air pollution is concerned, about 4.3 million people died in 2012 as a result of pollution emanating from cooking over cool, wood and biomass stoves, the report said.
Outdoors, about 3.7 million people died as a result of urban and rural contamination.
Low- and middle-income countries in the WHO Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions had the highest air pollution levels in 2012, with 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million to outdoor air pollution, the report added.
“Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution,” said Dr.
Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”
The new WHO assessments for 2012 are based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution and more technologically advanced evaluation mechanisms of human exposure, the organization said. Estimates of people’s outdoor exposure were formulated through a new global data mapping system via satellites, ground level monitoring, emission measurements and models of pollution drifts. The indoor exposure estimates were based on improved information about the approximately 2.9 billion people living in homes that use wood, coal or feces as primary cooking fuels.
“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,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director-general for Family, Women and Children’s Health.
Forty percent of deaths caused by outdoor air pollution occurred via ischaemic heart disease, 40% through stroke, 11% through chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 6% through lung cancer and 3% through acute lower respiratory infections in children. As far as indoor air pollution caused deaths were concerned, about 34% occurred via stroke, 26% through ischaemic heart disease, 22% through chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 12% through acute lower respiratory infections in children and 6% through lung cancer, according to the WHO data.
Later this year, WHO will release indoor air quality guidelines for household fuel combustion, as well as individual country data on outdoor and indoor air pollution exposures and related mortality, the organization said.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said the findings reinforce what ministry officials have been advocating for years – the swift implementation of the recently approved national program to prevent air pollution.
The cabinet approved the program in August 2013, and the ministry claims it will save about 700 lives in Israel each year. The Clean Air Law, which passed in the Knesset in 2008, required the government to approve such a national plan by January 1, 2012. Although the ministry, in conjunction with Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) had long before prepared the comprehensive program, the government only brought the plans to a vote last summer.
Among the plans within the program already under way are a private-vehicle scrapping program for old models and increased control of quarry operations. Planned for the future are tax incentives for hybrid taxis, tax differentials for fuels based on pollution, a pilot program for converting public transportation to natural gas and grants for employers to incentivize workers to carpool or take public transportation.
The cabinet approval came several months after the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee unanimously approved, in May 2013, stricter air quality standards, such as permissible concentration levels of fine particulates (diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less) as well as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide levels.
“Protection of the air we breathe is reflected immediately in human life,” Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said at the time.