Last Updated on January 31, 2021 CareOurEarth
Air pollution is a major public health problem because of its negative impact on health. To facilitate easy understanding, some key facts and statistics about the impact of air pollution on human health, extracted from relevant reports, are compiled at the following:
- Air pollution is a significant risk factor for several pollution-related diseases, including respiratory infections, ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and lung cancer.
- Air pollution has been linked to increased medication use, more doctor visits, increased hospitalizations, disability, and early death.
- Indoor air pollution and poor urban air quality are listed as two of the world’s worst toxic pollution problems .
- 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where PM2.5 levels are above the WHO guideline for healthy air (10 ug/m3) [WHO, 2016].
- 49% of the world’s population – about 3.8 billion people – use solid fuels for cooking, which is a major source of indoor air pollution .
- Unprotected exposure to PM2.5 air pollution can be equivalent to smoking multiple cigarettes per day.
- On average, air pollution result in a mean loss of life expectancy of 2.2 years .
- Each year, air pollution costs the world economy $5 trillion due to productivity losses and degraded quality of life .
- Air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk, causing the deaths of around 7 million people worldwide each year 
- Air pollution is now the 4th leading risk factor, after high blood pressure, tobacco and poor diet, for premature death worldwide .
- In 2019, air pollution caused more than 6.67 million deaths, accounting for nearly 12% of global deaths . Roughly, one out of eight deaths was caused by diseases associated with air pollution.
- Separately, 4.14 million deaths were attributable to exposure to ambient particulate matter (PM2.5), accounting for 62% of all air pollution-attributable deaths, and 2.31 million deaths were related to exposure to household air pollution .
- The global average death rate attributable to air pollution exposure is 86 deaths per 100,000 people .
- Living close to busy traffic appears to be associated with elevated risks of increase in lung cancer deaths, cardiovascular deaths, and overall non-accidental deaths .
- India and China have the largest numbers of premature deaths due to exposure to air pollution .
- In 2019, 1.7 million deaths in India were attributable to air pollution, accounting for 18% of the total deaths in the country; from 1990 to 2019, the death rate from PM2.5 has increased by 115% in India .
Infant and Children
- Air pollution is a main cause poisoning millions of children under the age of 15 years because of the immaturity of their respiratory organ systems 
- Children aged less than 5 years that live in developing countries are the most vulnerable population in terms of total deaths attributable to air pollution.
- Children under age 5 in lower-income countries are more than 60 times as likely to die from exposure to air pollution as children in high-income countries .
- Globally, nearly 500,000 infant deaths in the first month of life were attributable to air pollution .
- Prenatal exposure to air pollution has been linked to a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, including reduced IQ scores, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) [9, 10].
- Children who were living in areas with high levels of traffic-related air pollution were more likely to be diagnosed with autism between 3-5 years of age .
- Exposure to PM2.5 was strongly associated with 18% of preterm births, which was approximately 2.7 million premature births globally .
- Women in regions with greater than average PM2.5 levels had statistically significant higher odds of pregnancy resulting in a low-birth weight infant .
- Pure Earth. World’s Worst Polluted Places Report 2009.
- Health Effects Institute. State of Global Air 2020.
- Believed et al. Cardiovascular disease burden from ambient air pollution in Europe reassessed using novel hazard ratio functions, Eur Heart J 2019,40:1590-1596.
- World Bank. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action (PDF). Washington, D.C.: The World Bank. 2016.
- 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. 25 March 2014.
- Chen et al. A systematic review of the relation between long-term exposure to ambient air pollution and chronic diseases. Reviews on Environmental Health. 2008,23: 243–97.
- India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Air Pollution. Health and economic impact of air pollution in the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Lancet Planet Health, 2021,5(1):e25-e38.
- Air pollution kills 600,000 children: WHO. The News International. October 30, 2018.
- Pereira et al. Prenatal polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure and child behavior at age 6–7 years, Environmental health perspectives 2012,120:921-926.
- Pereyra et al. Early-life exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and ADHD behavior problems, PloS One 2014,9:e111670.
- Becerra et al. Ambient air pollution and autism in Los Angeles county, California, Environmental health perspectives 2013,121:380-386.
- Malley et al. Preterm birth associated with maternal fine particulate matter exposure: a global, regional and national assessment, Environment international 2017,101:173-182.
- Fleischer et al. Outdoor air pollution, preterm birth, and low birth weight: analysis of the world health organization global survey on maternal and perinatal health, Environmental health perspectives 2014,122:425-430.