9 in 10 People Are Breathing Deadly Air

China is the worst off in WHO study that finds serious health effects linked to air pollution
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2016 9:48 AM CDT
9 in 10 People Are Breathing Deadly Air
China comes off worst in a WHO study of air pollution with more than 1 million deaths per year. File photo of a coal-fired power plant near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The vast majority of humanity is breathing dirty air, putting us at risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung disease, the World Health Organization says. The agency's most detailed analysis yet of air pollution reveals that 92% of the world's population is breathing air that fails to meet basic health standards, NPR reports. About 6.5 million deaths per year are linked to air pollution, 3 million of them exclusively to outdoor exposure, which was the focus of the study. In 2012, one of every nine deaths was linked to bad air, with devastating consequences. "Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations—women, children and the older adults," said Flavia Bustreo, WHO's assistant director general, in a news release. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last." China was by far the worst off, with more than 1 million deaths in 2012, followed by India with 621,000. (The US had 38,000, Australia only 94.)

Sources include dirty cars and buses, household fuel, waste burning, and power plants. The WHO used air-pollution data from nearly 3,000 spots obtained from satellites and ground stations to measure airborne particulate matter such as sulphates and nitrates. But because the samples did not include known pollutants such as ozone, actual air quality could be far worse. Just last month, US researchers said that cracking down just a bit on ozone and particulate matter standards could save 9,000 lives a year, NBC News reports. The WHO's Maria Neria said the mortality breakdown by country ought to spur a global crackdown on air pollution. "What we are learning is, this is very bad. Now there are no excuses for not taking action," she told the Guardian. (One study said air pollution could be linked to Alzheimer's disease.)

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