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China, together with India, accounted for more than half of pollution-related deaths in 2016, according to a new report. (Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen/cc/flickr)

New Study Finds More Than 95% of Global Population Exposed to Harmful Air Pollution

Experts say the report "leads a growing worldwide consensus" that this "avoidable affliction" poses a serious and mounting threat to public health

Jessica Corbett

More than 95 percent of people worldwide are exposed to dangerous air pollution, which kills millions each year and threatens billions more, according to a new analysis.

State of Global Air 2018: A Special Report on Global Exposure to Air Pollution and Its Disease Burden (pdf), published by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), details how exposure to air pollution—both indoor and outdoor—poses a mounting threat to public health.

Researchers found that air pollution is the top environmental cause of death globally, and ranks fourth overall among risk factors —behind high blood pressure, smoking, and dietary choices.

Household air pollution and ambient particular matter—a component of outdoor pollution—were listed individually among the top ten risk factors, and were tied to a combined 6.7 million deaths in 2016, the last year studied. Ozone, a harmful gas that contributes to outdoor pollution, was listed separately and tied to 234,000 deaths from chronic lung disease.

Air pollution

The study, said HEI president Dan Greenbaum, "leads a growing worldwide consensus—among the WHO, World Bank, International Energy Agency and others—that air pollution poses a major global public health challenge."

"Nowhere is that risk more evident than in the developing world," Greenbaum noted, "where a third of the world's population faces a double burden of indoor and outdoor air pollution."

The report found that "the elderly in low- and middle-income countries experience the greatest loss of healthy life-years due to the non-communicable diseases" linked to air pollution, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, lung cancer, and COPD.

The new analysis comes as the Trump administration moves to scale back air pollution protections to cater to U.S. manufacturers, part of the administration and Environmental Protection Agency's broader deregulatory agenda.

Recent studies have shown that similar to the rest of the world, non-White Americans and those living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to polluted air.


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