WHO Pegs Air Pollution As Top Environmental Hazard, Resulting In Millions Of Deaths Annually
March 25, 2014

WHO Pegs Air Pollution As Top Environmental Hazard, Resulting In Millions Of Deaths Annually

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

According to new information released from the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is currently the No. 1 environmental hazard around the world – causing around 7 million deaths in 2012.

The new WHO estimates on air pollution are driven by a greater understanding of the diseases brought on by both indoor and outdoor air pollution and a better evaluation of human contact with air pollutants via improved measurement capacity and technology. Scientists are now able to make a more in-depth analysis of health hazards from a wider group that now includes rural and urban regions.

“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,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, the WHO assistant director-general of Family, Women and Children’s Health. “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.”

WHO researchers reported that 40 percent of the deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution were due to ischaemic heart disease and another 40 percent of these deaths were due to stroke. Meanwhile, deaths attributed to indoor pollution were mostly caused by stroke (34 percent), ischaemic heart disease (26 percent), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (22 percent).

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” said Dr. Maria Neira, a public health director at the WHO. “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.”

Supported by better information about indoor cooking practices, WHO estimated that indoor air contaminants were associated with 4.3 million deaths in 2012 – in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves, which use animal dung as fuels. Evidence about air pollution's role in the progression of cardiovascular diseases and cancers also supported this latest estimate.

The WHO also estimated that there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources of outdoor air pollution. Because of the overlap in exposure, the deaths caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution were simply lumped together for the purpose of the analysis, the WHO said.

“Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains,” said Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “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.”

The WHO said it will release guidelines later this year on household fuel combustion, as well as outdoor and indoor air pollution exposures and related mortality data broken down by country. The international organization said it will also update information on air quality measurements in 1600 cities from all regions of the world.