World Health Organization: Air pollution kills millions

Tourists with masks get off a boat in Port Klang, Malaysia, March 14, 2014.
Tourists with masks get off a boat in Port Klang, Malaysia, March 14, 2014. The schools closed for a day because of the unhealthy air.

Seven million people died from exposure to air pollution around the world in 2012, according to new estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) published Tuesday. WHO said one in eight total deaths around the globe in 2012 could be attributed to air pollution.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, in a statement. “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.”

The highest number of casualties for the year occurred in low- and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific regions, where there were 3.3 million deaths associated with indoor air pollution and 2.6 million casualties related to outdoor air pollution, according to the research. Indoor air pollution killed more people in 2012 than outdoor pollution, according to the WHO, 4.3 million to 3.7 million, respectively.

Stroke, heart disease, and pulmonary disease were the three leading illnesses that led to death from both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Lower respiratory infections in children and lung cancer also accounted for those casualties.

Common sources of air pollution, as defined by WHO, include motor vehicles, industrial facilities, household combustion devices, and forest fires.

President Obama pledged during his second inaugural address that America would respond to the growing threat of climate change for the sake of its children and future generations. He released his Climate Action Plan last June to cut carbon pollution, ready communities for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to address global warming. He also committed to developing new fuel efficiency standards and to reducing reliance on foreign oil, ambitious proposals that don’t require action from Congress.

As part of that effort, the White House last week rolled out, a new website aimed to improve climate change preparedness around the country by making government data available to business leaders who can stimulate combating innovation.