Each year, around 4.5 million people died from the effects of outdoor air pollution worldwide, an article recently published in Nature reported, citing two studies published in Lancet – one of the top medical journals in England. However, this figure was estimated on the basis of the data in earlier years. According to a report released by WHO in 2014, around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. Given the worsening air quality, it is possible that the total number of deaths per year attributable to air pollution will continue to rise.
The WHO report indicates that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Although there is a report that China’s air quality is improving slightly and slowly since 2010, though the evidence is weak, India’s air quality has worsened fastest in the past decade. Moreover, desert dust in West Africa adds to air pollution. Globally, air quality is worsening. Currently, over 90% of the world population are exposed to air pollution, as documented in the article published in Nature.
According to a report by Dr. Lelieveld, a researcher in Germany, half of the deaths attributable to air pollution are in China and India, although Russia has a higher per-capita death rate: about 1.6 inhabitants per thousand each year, twice as many as in India. On average, each person affected dies 28 years earlier than they would do if they had breathed clean air, amounting to some 120 million years of human life lost each year.
The most vulnerable group of people to air pollution may be older adults. They are at greater risk of mortality caused by air pollution because of their chronic illnesses. Older adults with certain health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, atrial fibrillation and cancer, are particularly susceptible to the short-term effects of air pollution. Therefore, air pollution can shorten life expectancy and health expectancy for older adults.
Another group of people vulnerable to air pollution are children under 5 years of age. A recent report by WHO indicates that more than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years are attributable to unhealthy environments including indoor and outdoor air pollution. Globally, environmental risks take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years every year. Many of them die from respiratory infections such as pneumonia, which are associated with air pollution. When children are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution, they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Harmful exposures can start in the mother’s womb and increase the risk of premature birth. Thus, building safer environments through reducing air pollution inside and outside households is very important for preventing children’s deaths and diseases.