Global air pollution is worse than you ever thought it was


Click to enlargeBBC

The World Health Organization — which has previously found that indoor and outdoor air pollution killed a shocking 7 million people globally in 2012 — released a new analysis Tuesday underscoring the extent of the risk, which seems to grow worse and worse the more we learn about how damaging tiny airborne particles can be to our health.

Most strikingly, the new report, which combines local data with a global model to determine the extent of deadly air pollution across the planet even in places where there are no instruments recording it, finds that 92 percent of people suffer under pollution levels that are worse than WHO standards (as of 2014). The vast majority of deaths are in developing countries. The document calls air pollution the “largest environmental risk factor.”

Of greatest concern is a form of pollution called PM2.5, referring to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The global health agency believes that a concentration greater than 10 micrograms per cubic meter of these fine particles in the air qualifies as dangerous. The great risk is that the particles are so small that they can be inhaled, travel into the lungs, and enter the bloodstream…

The new report credits air pollution with “about one in every nine deaths annually…”

In general, developed nations such as the United States have managed to clean their air substantially in recent years, but WHO has found that in developing countries the burden remains quite high. A previous report from earlier this year from the agency found that the Indian capital city of Delhi had annually averaged PM2.5 levels of 122, or more than 12 times the safe level…

In other words, Air pollution is improving in rich countries, but it’s still getting worse in most developing countries.

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