The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that nine out of 10 people on the planet breathe polluted air, which can contribute to lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes.
Up to 92 per cent of the population live in areas where pollution exceeds WHO limits with around three million deaths being linked to outdoor air pollution every year.
When indoor air pollution is considered (which includes pollutants such as wood smoke and cooking fires), air pollution is linked to one death in every nine.
Areas such as South-east Asia and Western Pacific regions, where pollution is particularly problematic, attribute two out of every three deaths to pollution, with many areas “getting worse”.
For the first time WHO has broken down air pollution on a country-by-country basis and has been able to find that China, India, and Russia suffer from the worst levels of pollution with 1,740,000 people having died from pollution in 2012.
The UK was found to be the 25th most polluted country, ranking worse than France, with 49,355 deaths in 2012 compared to France’s 10,954.
Scientists looked at exposure to particularly small particulates that are 2.5 microns in size, known as PM2.5s. These particulates can penetrate the lungs and happen to be the pollutant most strongly associated with death and illnesses.
In the UK, more than 90 per cent of the population lives in areas with high levels of PM2.5s, breaching WHO’s air quality limits of 10 micrograms per cubic metre.
More than 7,300 people died from ischaemic heart disease linked to outdoor air pollution during 2012, while 5,000 people died from lung cancer and 3,700 died from strokes.
Air particulate pollution accounted for only 94 deaths in Australia.
Maria Neria, director of the WHO’s public health and the environment department, in conversation with The Guardian, said that, “Countries are confronted with the reality of better data. Now we have the figures of how many citizens are dying from air pollution. What we are learning is, this is very bad. Now there are no excuses for not taking action.”
The WHO also stated that sustainable transport, waste management, and renewable energies were credible ways to reduce air pollution.
With more than 3,000 monitoring stations alongside combined satellite measurements, the data and figures represent the most detailed study the WHO has ever released.