Air pollution

Posted: 27 September 2007

Clean air is considered to be a basic requirement of human health and well-being. But air pollution continues to pose a significant threat to health worldwide. According to a WHO assessment of the burden of disease due to air pollution, more than 2 million premature deaths each year can be attributed to the effects of urban outdoor air pollution and indoor air pollution (caused by the burning of solid fuels). More than half of this disease burden is borne by the populations of developing countries.

  • Indoor pollutants, such as sulphur and nitric oxides and arsenic compounds, result from open fires which burn biomass (stubble, dung and other residues), coal or wood. They are a special threat to the 1 billion women and children who spend more time indoors.

  • Every year, indoor air pollution is responsible for the death of 1.6 million people - that's one death every 20 seconds.

  • The use of improved cooking stoves in Kenya halved the incidence of chest and eye disease.

  • Bangladesh's capital Dhaka is facing serious health and worker productivity problems from polluted air, caused by population increase, unplanned industrial activities and 160,000 motor vehicles which operate in the city. The main pollutants are suspended particulate matter (SPM), sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

Air pollution China
Air pollution China
The World Bank estimates that air pollution causes nearly 170,000 deaths in China every year.

  • In Cairo, fumes from the 1.2 million vehicles, combined with suspended particulate matter and sand blown into urban areas from the neighbouring desert, create an almost permanent haze over the city. Levels of suspended particulate matter and lead pollution are among the highest in the world, creating a high risk of respiratory disorders to the 10.6 million inhabitants.

  • Diesel exhaust contains more than 40 chemicals listed as toxic air contaminants, carcinogens, reproductive toxins or endocrine disrupters. One agency in California has attributed 70 per cent of the total cancer risk to diesel particulates.

  • The Environmental Health Policy Alliance in California has found that childhood cancer rates are 10 per cent higher than they were 20 years ago, and that 600,000 Californian children have asthma, a 160 per cent increase since 1980.