Over 90 percent of the world’s population is exposed to excessive air pollution, according to a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The U.N. health agency estimates nearly 6 million deaths each year can be attributed to air pollution, with the majority of the deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
Using data from 3,000 monitoring sites around the world, the WHO air pollution report revealed more than 92 percent of the world’s population lives an area far exceeding acceptable air contamination limits. WHO health experts believe exposure to excessive air pollution levels can contribute to serious health issues such as lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes.
A previous Inquisitr report revealed how air pollution may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
The report used satellite data that tracked small particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter found floating in the atmosphere. These dangerous particles, including toxins like sulfate and black carbon, are small enough to enter the lungs, cardiovascular system, and even the brain. Any region of the planet’s air that contains more than 10 micrograms per cubic meter of these contaminants is exceptionally hazardous.
“Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations — women, children and the older adults,” said Flavia Bustreo, WHO’s assistant director-general, in a statement. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.”
Of the 6 million deaths worldwide, nearly 3 million were linked specifically to outdoor air pollution. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths occurred in China and India. According to the WHO air pollution report, the number of deaths is expected to double by the year 2050 if world governments do not implement new environmental policies. The bulk of the increase is expected in Asia.
The WHO air pollution report listed the top five countries with the highest death rate linked to outdoor air pollution. Turkmenistan topped the list, followed by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Egypt.
The death rates seem to be highest in the world’s poorer countries, especially in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions. The WHO air pollution report determined Malaysia and Vietnam were the worst compared to the rest of the region.
“Rich countries are getting much better in improving the quality of the air,” Dr. Carlos Dora from the WHO. “Poorer countries are getting worse. That is the overall trend.”
While considered a very wealthy nation, China ranks sixth when it comes to deaths connected to air pollution. Many of its cities suffer from smog and contaminated air from industrial sources, and current evidence suggests face masks do not offer much protection from the tiny particles.
Overall, outdoor air pollution in North America is lower than much of Europe. In the U.S., 15 percent of high-income cities fell below WHO standards for air quality. Over 60 percent of high-income cities in Europe were found to have extremely poor air quality. The higher rate in Europe is likely due to many of its countries still being dependent on diesel fuel coupled with farming practices that generate high volumes of ammonia and methane.
The WHO air pollution report indicated that indoor contamination is just as harmful. Areas of the world where people rely on coal and wood for cooking and heating are the most at risk of health problems associated with unsafe quantities of interior smoke.
While based on figures from 2012, the WHO air pollution report points out just how bad air quality is worldwide and provides a wake-up call to governments to take action. The report authors suggest using renewable energies, cleaner cars, and efficient waste management techniques as promising ways to reduce air pollution.
[Featured Image by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images]