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Air pollution is the big global environmental threat: 7 million dead

The World Health Organization has released a report that identified toxic air as the biggest pollution threat to human life. The fact is that overloads of toxic particulate matter in the air connect to a host of deadly respiratory, cardiovascular, and pulmonary diseases and cancers. According to a March 25 Environmental News Network article, air pollution contributed to 7 million deaths worldwide in 2012.

Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The latest assessments were refined and improved to provide better evidence because of two things: Advanced technology and better understanding of disease/disorder relationships to air pollution.

Natural scientists and epidemiologists have found links between air pollution and cardiovascular diseases like ischemic heart disease and strokes. The connections between air pollution and cancers are more clear. Other respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and acute respiratory infections are also more clearly tied to air pollution.

In some parts of the world, indoor air pollution is as bad as outdoor pollution. Dirty cooking fuels like coal, wood and biomass are taking on more scrutiny. Outdoor pollution, mainly from the transport and industry sectors was the center of attention until 2012.

The worst indoor and outdoor pollution combinations occur in southeast Asia and the western Pacific regional population centers. Those two regions had a total of 5.9 of the 7 million deaths. 3.3 million deaths came from indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths came from outdoor air pollution, making the two regions the most deadly parts of the globe.

Poor women, children and the elderly are most at risk, with the dirty cooking fuel as the greatest source of toxic indoor air. Coal, biomass and wood cooking stoves are found to be related to 34 percent of indoor air pollution deaths from stroke. 26 percent died of ischemic heart disease. 22 percent expired from COPD;

Outdoor pollution killed at rates of 40 percent from ischemic heart disease and another 40 percent from stroke.

A March 25 WHO press release quoted Dr.Flavia Bustreo, the WHO Assistant Director of General Family, Women and Children’s Health. When addressing the impact of the report, she said,

“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. 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 cooking stoves.”

The next step for the WHO will be to identify and report on the most troublesome policies in transportation, industry and other human activities. With better evidence, the odds are that guidance from WHO might be taken more seriously. This is especially true when the economic impacts of air pollution are taken into account.

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