A recent study revealed that more than 3 million people die as a result of outdoor air pollution each year, a total that is more than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.
The largest cause for air pollution is the burning of coal and wood that is used to heat homes and cook food. This was found to be especially true in Asia.
Farming emissions in Europe and the United States were another significant contributor to pollution. In the United States, air pollution was the leading cause of deaths, according to the study, with a death related to air pollution occurring every ten seconds.
Without corrective action this rate is expected to double by 2050.
Environmental health expert and Professor from the University of California Michael Jerrett said “This projection should sound alarm bells for public health agencies around the world.”
Most deaths related to air pollution are the result of tiny particles inhaled deep into the lungs, leading to heart attacks and strokes. These particles accounted for three-quarters of the 3.3 million annual air pollution related deaths worldwide. Lung cancer and respiratory diseases accounted for the other quarter.
The new study is the first of its kind to single out different sources of outdoor air pollution, while also estimating the number of premature deaths caused by each source.
The researchers utilized a detailed computer model of the Earth’s atmosphere to determine the impact of air pollution on different populations of the world. This opened the door for examination on how pollution affects people in specific places, such as China and India.
One-third of all premature deaths were derived from the usage of smoky fuels, such as wood and coal, in order to heat homes, cook food, and generate electricity. One-half of the annual deaths in India and one-third of the deaths in China are the result of this type of pollution.
Agricultural emissions also had a large impact, being responsible for a fifth of all global deaths. These emissions come mostly from cattle, chickens, pigs, and the over usage of fertilizer.
In the United Kingdom, 48% of premature deaths were ultimately caused by pollution from agriculture.
Only 5% of deaths worldwide were caused by traffic pollution, but this number is expected to increase as cars become more commonplace in developing countries.
Natural air pollution caused by dust was a big issue in some dry countries, as it accounted for 92% of deaths in Egypt and 81% in Iran.
The study shows the need for tighter air quality controls across the globe.
Atmospheric scientist Dr. Oliver Wild said, “The study really brings home the need for air quality controls to avoid these additional deaths, particularly in heavily populated parts of Asia.”