Air pollution – an invisible killer

Published: Nov 5, 2019, 11:13 am IST
Air pollution - an invisible killer

Kolkata, Nov 5 (UNI) Air pollution is an invisible killer that lurks all around us, preying on the young and old. Most air pollution-related deaths are from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate.

The combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause about 7 million premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 24 per cent of all stroke deaths are attributable to air pollution. Air pollution causes 1.4 million deaths from stroke every year. 25 per cent of all heart disease deaths are attributable to air pollution. Air pollution causes 2.4 million deaths due to heart disease every year. 43 per cent of all lung disease and lung cancer deaths are attributable to air pollution. Air pollution causes 1.8 million deaths due to lung disease and cancer every year.

More than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the WHO guideline level of 10µg/m3, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.

The major outdoor pollution sources include vehicles, power generation, building heating systems, agriculture/waste incineration and industry. In addition, more than 3 billion people worldwide rely on polluting technologies and fuels (including biomass, coal and kerosene) for household cooking, heating and lighting, releasing smoke into the home and leaching pollutants outdoors.

Air quality is closely linked to the earth’s climate and ecosystems globally. Many of the drivers of air pollution (i.e. combustion of fossil fuels) are also sources of high CO2 emissions. Some air pollutants such as ozone and black carbon are short-lived climate pollutants that greatly contribute to climate change and affect agricultural productivity.

Policies to reduce air pollution, therefore, offer a “win-win” strategy for both climate and health, lowering the burden of disease attributable to air pollution, as well as contributing to the near- and long-term mitigation of climate change.

Air pollution can be significantly reduced by expanding access to clean household fuels and technologies, as well as prioritizing: rapid urban transit, walking and cycling networks; energy-efficient buildings and urban design; improved waste management; and electricity production from renewable power sources.