I know air pollution is bad – but how does air pollution effect our health, really?
We all know that in a pollution-free environment leads to a better quality of life, but do we really know how air pollution affects us and which parts of our bodies are damaged by each kind of polluting particle? How does breathing polluted air effect our health?
The inconvenient truth about air pollution
Some 9 out of 10 people now breathe polluted air. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air.
- These particles (including PM2.5, PM 10, and others) penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.
- Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.
- More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
- Around 3 billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution.
WHO has been monitoring household air pollution for more than a decade and, while the rate of access to clean fuels and technologies is increasing everywhere, improvements are not even keeping pace with population growth in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Air pollution is a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer. This is having an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt. So how does air pollution effect our health? It is one of the most destructive health factors you can imagine.
Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter how rich an area you live in.
It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.
“The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high, that moving to cleaner and more sustainable choices for energy supply, transport and food systems effectively pays for itself,” says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
The lack of visible smog is no indication that the air is healthy. Across the world, both cities and towns are seeing toxic pollutants in the air exceed the average annual values recommended by WHO’s air quality guidelines.
Without a significant reduction in emissions – whether through increasing efficiency of machinery, enforcement of existing laws, or incentive programs aimed at harmful pollutants – our nations will experience generational health issues that the world has never known.