What’s the Biggest Environmental Health Risk That Could Kill Us All?

By: | April 4th, 2014

A new study from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk in the world, responsible for seven million deaths globally in 2012. This is higher than smoking and road accidents combined.

The figures are actually more than double of what original estimates were and gather together air pollution from both outdoor burning as well as indoor burning. The research found new concerns in the link between air pollution worldwide and the increase in cases of cerebrovascular diseases and ischaemic heart disease, two diseases that weren’t looked at in similar previous studies.

Around 3.7 million outdoor ambient pollution deaths were noted with the majority of these deaths caused by stroke, heart disease, lung infections, and cancer. Indoor or household pollution accounted for 4.3 million deaths through similar causes.

Roughly 88% of these air pollution-related deaths happened in low and middle income (LMI) countries, which according to WHO makes up 82% of the world’s population. Only a small number of deaths, about 19,000, occurred in developed and wealthy countries.

When compared to a similar study in 2008, the figures are strikingly higher and this attributed to a greater understanding of pollution’s effects, more so than a rise in pollution itself. This new study took a wide range of new factors into account for analysis such as the inclusion of rural populations and a greater understanding of diseases that has come about in the interim.

The study notes that household pollution is predominantly a rural issue while unsurprisingly ambient pollution is a bigger issue in urban areas.

“In some continents, many countries are relatively unaffected by household air pollution, while ambient air pollution is a major concern,” added the study’s authors. The researchers were also keen to add that the study is still somewhat limited and the results should be interpreted as such.

This isn’t the first study of late to link air pollution with a worrying increase in disease and death. The British Medical Journal conducted a vast study a number of months ago on the growing air pollution issue in China, stating that life expectancy has decreased as result. This study is now coupled with WHO’s findings, which point to Asia has having the most worrying problems.

The concern isn’t restricted to Asia though as the European Commission recently took out a lawsuit against the UK for failing to reduce its pollution and more countries may be next.

Read the full WHO study

Jonathan Keane

Irish journalist writing on business, tech and engineering.

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