UK & World News

  • 25 March 2014, 9:29

Air Pollution 'Kills 7 Million People Worldwide'

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 in Asia.

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 strokes.

"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.

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