Fact or Myth: Can Air Pollution Kill You?

This is FACT.

airpollutionThe World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its stats on environmental pollution, and the primary nuisance is air pollution. According to WHO, in 2012 approximately 12.6 million people died due to living or working in unhealthy environments. Those estimates account for 1 in 4 deaths worldwide.

Environmental risk factors include air, water, and soil pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation; however, air pollution seems to be leading the pack.

Noncommunicable diseases—chronic conditions such as stroke, heart disease, cancers, and respiratory disease—are responsible for two-thirds of all environmental-related deaths, which the WHO broke down as the following:

  • Stroke – 2.5 million deaths annually
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 2.3 million deaths annually
  • Unintentional injuries (such as road traffic deaths) – 1.7 million deaths annually
  • Cancers – 1.7 million deaths annually
  • Chronic respiratory diseases – 1.4 million deaths annually
  • Diarrhoeal diseases – 846 000 deaths annually
  • Respiratory infections – 567 000 deaths annually
  • Neonatal conditions – 270 000 deaths annually
  • Malaria – 259 000 deaths annually
  • Intentional injuries (such as suicides) – 246 000 deaths annually

Deaths from infectious diseases, such as diarrhea and malaria due to poor water and waste management, showed a decline, while access to safe water and sanitation standards have improved.

WHO urges countries to take cost-effective measures to improve environmental conditions, such as using clean technologies and fuels for cooking, heating, and lighting.

“There’s an urgent need for investment in strategies to reduce environmental risks in our cities, homes and workplaces”, said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Such investments can significantly reduce the rising worldwide burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, injuries, and cancers, and lead to immediate savings in healthcare costs.”

Children under 5 and adults between 50 and 75 are most at risk.

Improving Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air is 5 to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air. In 2009, researchers investigated the indoor air quality of 52 homes on the Arizona-Mexico border and detected 586 toxic chemicals! We may not be able to manage our exposure to air pollution outdoors, but indoors there are steps we can take to improve air quality.

Ventilate frequently. Open the windows for at least 10 minutes a day. Windows should be open on opposite ends of the house to provide for cross ventilation. You can also invest in a high-quality, negative-ion-generating air purifier.