Air Pollution Killed Seven Million People in 2012: WHO - The New Indian Express

Air Pollution Killed Seven Million People in 2012: WHO

Published: 25th March 2014 11:06 AM

Last Updated: 25th March 2014 11:15 AM

Air pollution by sources ranging from cooking fires to auto fumes contributed to an estimated seven million deaths worldwide in 2012, the UN health agency said today.

"Air pollution, and we're talking about both indoors and outdoors, is now the biggest environmental health problem, and it's affecting everyone, both developed and developing countries," said Maria Neira, the World Health Organisation's public and environmental health chief.

Globally, pollution was linked to one death in eight in 2012, new WHO research found. The biggest pollution-related killers were heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

The hardest-hit regions of the globe were what the WHO labels Southeast Asia, which includes India and Indonesia, and the Western Pacific, ranging from China and South Korea to Japan and the Philippines.

Together, they accounted for 5.9 million deaths. The global death toll included 4.3 million deaths due to indoor air pollution, chiefly caused by cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves.

The toll from outdoor pollution was 3.7 million, with sources ranging from coal heating fires to diesel engines.

Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor pollution, the WHO said, and due to that overlap the separate death toll attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together, hence the figure of seven million deaths.

The new figure is "shocking and worrying", Neira told reporters.

When it last released an estimate for deaths related to air pollution, in 2008, the agency had put the figure related to outdoor pollution at 1.3 million, while the number blamed on indoor pollution was 1.9 million.

But a change in research methods makes comparison difficult between the 2008 estimate and the 2012 figures, Neira said.

In the past, for example, the WHO did not take into account the overlap between exposure to both forms, and only assessed urban pollution.

Satellite imagery has made it easier to assess rural pollution, and new knowledge about the health impact of exposure has enabled a better count.

"The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes," said 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 all breathe."

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