Air pollution linked to 7 million deaths worldwide

World Health Organisation estimates that around 7 million people died prematurely in 2012 as a result of exposure to air pollution

Around seven million people worldwide died prematurely in 2012 as a result of exposure to air pollution, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates.

According to 2012 mortality data released by WHO yesterday (March 25), 4.3 million people died following exposure to indoor air pollution, such as in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves.

The risks from air pollution are greater than previously understood, according to the World Health Organisation

The risks from air pollution are greater than previously understood, according to the World Health Organisation

And, 3.7 million deaths around the world that year, meanwhile, are thought to have been the result of outdoor air pollution from urban and rural sources.

However, as many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution, WHO said, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together, hence the total estimate of around seven million worldwide deaths in 2012.

Furthermore, the data also appears to show a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution and cardiovascular diseases — such as strokes, ischaemic heart disease — and also cancer.

This, WHO claims, is in addition to the links between air pollution and the development of respiratory diseases including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.


Regionally, low-and-middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

Dr Maria Neira, director of WHO’s department for public health, environmental and social determinants of health 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.”

Estimates of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were formulated through data mapping, WHO said. This incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modelling of how pollution drifts in the air.

Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director-general of family, women and children’s health, said: “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.”

Later this year, WHO plans to release indoor air quality guidelines on household fuel combustion as well as country data on outdoor and indoor air pollution exposures and related mortality. Furthermore, WHO will publish an update of air quality measurements in 1,600 cities from all regions of the world.

Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths — breakdown by disease:

  • 40% — ischaemic heart disease
  • 40% — stroke
  • 11% — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • 6% —lung cancer; and
  • 3% — acute lower respiratory infections in children.

Indoor air pollution-caused deaths — breakdown by disease:

  • 34% — stroke
  • 26% — ischaemic heart disease
  • 22% — COPD
  • 12% — acute lower respiratory infections in children
  • 6% — lung cancer.

Commenting on the WHO figures, Friends of the Earth campaigner, Jenny Bates, said: “Tens of thousands of people die prematurely in the UK annually because of dangerous air pollution, which regularly breaches legal limits. Strong and urgent measures are needed to end this scandal, including action on road traffic, the main cause of most of the UK’s pollution.”


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Hilda Dent
Hilda Dent
10 years ago

How is it, you make no mention of neurodevelopmental and neurological diseases. ?

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