Particle pollution killing people

In many cities air pollution is reaching levels that threaten people's health according to a new compilation of air quality data by the World Heath Organization (WHO). The information includes data from nearly 1100 cities across 91 countries, including capital cities and cities with more than 100,000 residents.

WHO estimates that more than two million people die every year from breathing in tiny particles present in indoor and outdoor air pollution. These tiny particles can cause heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and acute lower respiratory infections. The WHO air quality guideline for PM10 is 20 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) as an annual average, but the data released today shows that the average PM10 level in some cities has reached up to 300 µg/m3.

Average PM10 levels in European cities range between 29 and 42 µg/m3, the data show. This compares with a world average of 71 µg/m3. The highest average PM10 levels are in the eastern Mediterranean region with a range of 137-142 µg/m3, followed by Southeast Asia.

For 2008, the estimated mortality attributable to outdoor air pollution in cities amounts to 1.34 million premature deaths. If the WHO guidelines had been universally met, an estimated 1.09 million deaths could have been prevented in 2008.

"Local actions, national policies and international agreements are all needed to curb pollution and reduce its widespread health effects," said Dr Michal Krzyzanowski, Head of the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health. "Data from air quality monitoring that is released today, identify regions where action is most needed and allows us to assess the effectiveness of implemented policies and actions."

Sources: WHO press release 26 September 2011, and ENDS Europe Daily, 27 September 2011

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