World Health Organization: Air pollution, global assessment exposure and disease burden report

World Health Organization: Air pollution, global assessment exposure and disease burden report

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Geneva – The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes the latest Ambient air pollution (A global assessment of exposure and burden of disease). According to the WHO’s new air quality model, 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. The information is presented through an interactive map that highlights areas within the country that exceed WHO limits. ‘The new WHO model shows countries where there is a risk of air pollution, and a baseline is provided to help monitor progress in controlling pollution,’ said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General of WHO.

This model also reflects the most detailed outdoor (or environmental) air pollution-related health data reported by WHO in the countries. Developed in collaboration with the University of Bath, the model is based on satellite measurements, atmospheric transport models and ground station monitors covering more than 3,000 urban and rural locations.

The cost of air pollution to human health

  • About 3 million deaths each year are associated with exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can also be fatal. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of the world’s total deaths) were related to indoor and outdoor air pollution.
  • Nearly 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and nearly two-thirds are in the WHO South-East Asia Region and the Western Pacific Region.
  • 94% are caused by non-communicable diseases, especially cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risk of serious acute respiratory infections.
  • ‘Air pollution continues to pose a health penalty for the most vulnerable people (women, children and the elderly),’ Dr. Bustreo added. ‘People want to be healthy, they must breathe fresh air from birth until the last moment of life.’
  • The main sources of air pollution include inefficient transportation, domestic fuel and waste incineration, coal-fired power plants and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution comes from human activities. For example, air quality can also be affected by sandstorms, especially in areas close to the desert.

Important fact

  • Air pollution is a major environmental risk affecting health. By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease caused by stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.
  • The lower the level of air pollution, the better the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population, both long-term and short-term.
  • The WHO Air Quality Guidelines assess the health impacts of air pollution and pollution thresholds that are harmful to health.
  • In 2014, 92% of the world’s population lived in places that did not meet WHO’s air quality guidelines.
  • In 2012, environmental (outdoor) air pollution in urban and rural areas is estimated to cause 3 million premature deaths worldwide.
  • About 88% of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with the largest burden in the WHO West Pacific and South-East Asia regions.
  • Implement policies and invest in support for cleaner vehicles, cleaner energy-efficient homes, cleaner power generation, cleaner industries, and better urban waste management to reduce the main sources of outdoor air pollution in cities.
  • Reducing outdoor emissions from domestic coal and biomass energy systems, agricultural waste incineration, forest fires and certain agroforestry activities (such as charcoal production) can reduce major air pollution sources in rural and suburban areas of developing regions.
  • Reducing outdoor air pollution also reduces carbon dioxide and emissions of short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon particles and methane, thereby helping to mitigate climate change in the near and long term.
  • In addition to outdoor air pollution, indoor smoke is also a serious health risk factor for approximately 3 billion people who use biomass fuel and coal for cooking.

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