air pollution beijing china

Most outdoor pollution deaths are in China, where just 4% of cities met pollution standards.
Image: Shutterstock

Air pollution has become the world’s single biggest environmental health risk, linked to around 7 million – or nearly one in eight deaths in 2012 – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The figures released by WHO are more than double previous estimates. The outdoor pollutions most prevalent are traffic fumes and coal burning.

Indoor air pollution led to 4.3 million deaths, 34% from strokes, 26% from heart diseases and 12% from respiratory disease in children. 3.7 million deaths from outdoor pollution were reported. The vast majority of outdoor pollution deaths were in Asia. In China, 96 percent of cities failed to pass state pollution standards, part of what has spurred the country to offer rewards to cities that make progress on air pollution.

los angeles california smog

Los Angeles, CA, has the most air pollution in the U.S.
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“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” said Maria Neira, director of WHO’s department for public health, environmental and social determinants of health. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

Air pollution has been increasingly linked with poor health and deaths in rich countries as traffic emissions continue to rise.  California suffers most with air pollution in the U.S., with 21,000 early deaths. In Europe, poor air quality is the top environmental cause of premature deaths, causing more than 100,000 premature deaths a year and costing between £300bn-£800bn a year in extra health costs, said Janez Potočnik, the EU environment commissioner.