March 24, 2014
Air pollution killed an estimated seven million people worldwide in 2012, the UN health agency has said.
New research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found pollution,
ranging from cooking fires to car fumes, was linked to one in eight
deaths in 2012.
Maria Neira, the WHO's public and environmental health chief, said the figure was "shocking and worrying".
"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," she said.
The biggest pollution-related killers were heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease and lung cancer, the WHO said.
The research found indoor air pollution was responsible for 4.3 million
deaths in 2012, mostly people cooking inside using wood and coal stoves
And the outdoor pollution death toll was put at 3.7 million, with
sources ranging from coal heating fires to diesel engines. Nearly 90% of
those deaths were in developing countries.
Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor pollution, and due
to that overlap the separate death tolls cannot simply be added
together, the WHO said.
The WHO said the hardest-hit regions were Southeast Asia, which
includes India and Indonesia, and the Western Pacific, ranging from
China and South Korea to Japan and the Philippines.
Those regions combined accounted for 5.9 million deaths.
The new estimates are more than double previous figures and based
mostly on modelling, but the WHO has changed its research methods so it
is difficult to make a comparison with past estimates.
Ms Neira said: "The risks from air pollution are now far greater than
previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and
"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."
Majid Ezzati, chair in global environmental health at Imperial College
London, said more research was needed to identify the deadliest
components of pollution in order to fight it more effectively.
"We don't know if dust from the Sahara is as bad as diesel fuel or burning coal," he said.