Ninety-two percent of the people on the Earth continuously breathe polluted air, whether indoors or outdoors, has stated the World Health Organization.

Nine out of ten people inhabit places where air contamination surpasses the limits stated by WHO. Breathing this contaminated air can increase the risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease, strokes, and lung cancer. Approximately three million annual deaths account to outdoor air pollution. As  WHO claims, the Western Pacific regions and Southeast Asia are one of the most polluted places, accounting two out of every three deaths related to air contamination.

Air pollution caused 7 million deaths globally in 2012, according to new estimates by the World Health Organization. Above, heavily polluted air in the northern Chinese city of Harbin. Image Credit: Associated Press

As time passes, poorer countries are getting worse air. When indoor air contamination gets added to the mix, the mortality rate increases to one in every nine deaths worldwide, meaning that 4.3 million deaths are attributable to household air pollution. This air contamination includes pollutants like cooking fires and wood smoke.

The air quality worldwide

The researchers utilized an air quality model where the smallest particles are less than 2.5 micrometers wide, known as PM 2.5. This means these particles are tiny enough to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain, causing long-exposition damage.

The worldwide data concluded that Turkmenistan is the country with the highest death rate linked to air pollution, with 89 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, followed closely by Afghanistan (81), Egypt (64), and Mali (62)

“Rich countries are getting much better in improving the quality of the air. Poorer countries are getting worse. That is the overall trend,” has stated Carlos Dora, a WHO specialist, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Nonetheless, Dora also said that the United Sates and Canada have better air quality than Europe since the latter have a higher dependence to farming practices that release ammonia and methane into the air and burn more diesel fuel.

Another interesting conclusion is, that although China is very wealthy, is the sixth most contaminated country, thanks to their industrial economy, which heavily pollutes the air. This leads the country to have sixty deaths per 100,000 population.

Meanwhile, the countries with the best air quality include New Zealand, Sweden, Micronesia and Australia.

Deaths related to bad air quality

Out of all the deaths related to polluted air, 94% was because of noncommunicable diseases, such as stroke, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart diseases. The polluted air also increases the cases of acute respiratory infections.

According to WHO assistant director-general Flavia Bustreo, bad air quality affects the most vulnerable groups, “women, children and the older adults” primarily, and claimed it is a fundamental right to be able to breathe clean, unpolluted air from birth to death.

Causes of air pollution and possible actions to take

Although air gets polluted mainly thanks to waste burning, inefficient transportation, industrial activities, household fuel and coal-fired power plants, some pollution is “natural.”

For example, the methane cows emit into the air is highly contaminating, as are dust storms, which could explain why dessert countries are always included in the list of nations with poor air quality.

WHO has stated that simply a change in waste management, and inversions in sustainable transport and renewable energies will considerably reduce air pollution.

Sources: The Washington Post