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WHO report: 90 percent of people breathe highly polluted air

According to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), over 90 percent of humans on Earth are breathing in highly polluted air. In addition, 90 percent of deaths caused by air pollution occur in developing countries.

The WHO collected data from over 4,300 cities in 108 countries, adding more than 1,000 cities to its ambient air quality database since the WHO’s last report two years ago. The WHO now has the world’s biggest database of outdoor air pollution.

Air pollution has been linked to cardiovascular disease, lung cancers, stroke, and respiratory issues.

“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a chief of the WHO in a statement.

In 2016 the WHO estimated that air pollution was responsible for the deaths of 4.2 million people, that number has now increased to seven million annually.

The gap in air quality between affluent and developing countries is only made worse by the fact that more than 40 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean cooking fuels, which is one of the biggest contributors to household pollution.

“It is unacceptable that over three billion people — most of them women and children — are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes,” said Tedros.

Besides cooking fuels, exposure to outdoor pollution from public transportation, industrial operations, and motor vehicles reportedly kills 4.2 million people every year.

The majority of these deaths occur in what the WHO calls the Eastern Mediterranean Region, which encompasses the Middle East and North Africa as well as Southeast Asia.

Air pollution in cities in these regions is sometimes five times more than the WHO’s pollution limits.

Even though people are gaining access to cleaner fuels and more is being done to reduce pollution, the WHO says it is not enough to keep up with the growing population.

“Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than 5 times, representing a major risk to people’s health,” said Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health at the WHO. “We are seeing an acceleration of political interest in this global public health challenge. The increase in cities recording air pollution data reflects a commitment to air quality assessment and monitoring. Most of this increase has occurred in high-income countries, but we hope to see a similar scale-up of monitoring efforts worldwide.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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