Air Pollution Causes 5.5 Million Deaths Worldwide Annually

Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:44

According to new research, more than 5.5 million people die annually due to both outdoor and household air pollution -- one of the leading global risk factors for disease.

According to Washington Post, the research, presented at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), suggests that the number of deaths tied to air pollution will continue to rise in the coming decades barring tougher efforts to slow emissions that harm human health.

For the AAAS meeting, researchers from Canada, the United States, China and India assembled estimates of air pollution levels in China and India and calculated the impact on health. Their analysis shows that the two countries account for 55 per cent of the deaths caused by air pollution worldwide: About 1.6 million people died of air pollution in China and 1.4 million died in India in 2013.

Power plants, industrial manufacturing, vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood all release small particles into the air that are dangerous to a person’s health. “Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease,” said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada. “Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.”

In China, burning coal is the biggest contributor to poor air quality. Qiao Ma, a PhD student at the School of Environment, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, found that outdoor air pollution from coal alone caused an estimated 366,000 deaths in China in 2013.

In India, a major contributor to poor air quality is the practice of burning wood, dung and similar sources of biomass for cooking and heating. Millions of families, among the poorest in India, are regularly exposed to high levels of particulate matter in their own homes.

There are two main types of air pollution: outdoor, and household. The first is caused mainly by things such as power plants, vehicle exhaust, and land clearing for agriculture, while the second comes from people using open fires or inefficient stoves within their homes. While outdoor air pollution is common to almost every city worldwide, household air pollution is primarily a problem in rural areas of developing countries.

“One of the reasons that we focus particularly on China and India is that the sources that contribute to air pollution are also major sources contributing to climate change,” says Brauer. “And by highlighting the health impacts of air pollution we’re hoping to catalyze a faster shift away from these dirtier sources to cleaner energy sources for these countries.”

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