Dangers of air pollution ‘worse than previously thought’

Air pollution poses a greater risk to human health than previously thought, according to the World Health Organisation

Air pollution poses more dangers than previously thought and is one of the “greatest hazards to human health”, according to the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO).

The warning came at the latest meeting of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), held in Paris, France, over the weekend (April 6-7), as the WHO renewed its call for rapid global action on air pollution.

The United Nations headquarters in New York - the WHO is a UN agency

The United Nations headquarters in New York – the WHO is a UN agency

Speaking at the CCAC meeting, the WHO’s director of public health and environment, Dr. Maria Neira, said: “The estimations we have now tell us there are 3.5 million premature deaths every year caused by household air pollution, and 3.3 million deaths every year caused by outdoor air pollution.”

According to the WHO, ground-level ozone pollution is estimated to cause an additional 200,000 premature deaths every year.

At the meeting, health advocates were told that indoor air pollution had become the leading risk factor for ‘burden of disease’ in South Asia, while it was also ranked second in Eastern, Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa and third in Southeast Asia.

Burden of disease is a calculation based on years of life lost combined with years lived at less than full health.

“Air pollution is becoming one of the biggest health issues we have in front of us at the moment,” Dr. Neira said.


The CCAC, whose partners include UN member states and civil society health advocates, targets so-called short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), as major culprits in the damage to health, as well as the cause of crop loss and climate change.

SLCPs that are harmful to human health are released through numerous sources, such as diesel engine exhaust, smoke and soot from inefficient cooking stoves, leakage and flaring from oil and natural gas production, and emissions from solid waste disposal.

With regards to cooking stoves, the WHO stated that many of these appliances emit carbon monoxide and other pollutants at levels up to 100 times higher than recommended limits.

At the meeting UNEP called for fast action on SLCPs, as this could “dramatically” reduce the number of annual deaths from air pollution. It added that efforts to lower black carbon emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and engines were receiving “particularly strong attention” from the CCAC.

In addition, it added that the CCAC had already launched efforts to reduce black carbon and other pollutants from brick production through the adoption of modern technologies, which can lower the emission of pollutants by 10- 50%, while efforts to distribute clean cook stoves were already underway in Bangladesh.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants is a partnership of governments, intergovernmental organisations, the private sector, the environmental community, and other members of civil society. Launched by six countries and UNEP in February 2012, it consists of 60 state partners and other international institutions and organisations.


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Diana Smith
Diana Smith
11 years ago

Interesting article – though at the Health and Environment Alliance we focus on health in Europe. HEAL is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union. We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing networks of health professionals, non-profit health insurers, patients, citizens, women, youth and environmental experts working at the international, EU, national and local level. Together, we help to bring independent expertise and evidence from the health community to different decision-making processes.
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