Over 90% of world’s population exposed to unsafe levels of ambient air pollution, WHO warns

Over 90% of world’s population exposed to unsafe levels of ambient air pollution, WHO warns - article image

A new World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality model has found that 92% of the world’s population are exposed to levels of ambient air pollution that exceed safe limits, as outlined in the WHO’s most detailed health data related to global outdoor air pollution.

The report claims that in 2012 3 million deaths worldwide, including some 479,000 from the European region, are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution, due to its impact on non-communicable diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and various cardiovascular conditions.

The new model carefully calibrated ground and satellite data to improve the reliability of air pollution measurements, and researchers analysed air pollution exposures against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km.

WHO have collated the results in an online, interactive map, which provides information on population-weighted exposure to particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) for all countries. The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for PM10 and PM2.5 values for about 3000 cities and towns.

Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO, speaking on the new model, says “The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it.”

"Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults," adds Dr Bustreo. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."

The revelations of this latest WHO report highlight the necessity of movements such as this year’s Healthy Lungs for Life ‘Breathe Clean Air’ campaign, as the true scale of unsafe ambient air pollution levels are exposed and the devastating impact on global public health revealed.

Access the WHO report