WHO: 9 out of 10 People Are Breathing Bad Air (And About Climate Change….)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a mind-blowing 92 percent of people around the globe are breathing air that far exceeds the WHO’s limits for safety.
Now, the organization is putting some muscle behind a new BreatheLife campaign, an effort that aims to “mobilize cities and individuals to protect our health and planet from the effects of air pollution.” The agency has partnered with the Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) so they have the resources to combine “public health and climate change expertise with guidance on implementing solutions to air pollution in support of global development goals.”
Late last year, the oversight agency released its most comprehensive assessment of outdoor air quality to date. The WHO report found pollution is linked to a shocking 3 million deaths per year, which are mostly caused by heart disease, stroke and cancer. This staggering number means that one out of every nine deaths stems from pollution.
What Countries Have the Most Air Pollution?
The report based on ground measurements in 3,000 locations found the most polluted areas were Southeast Asia, along with western Pacific and eastern Mediterranean countries. Turkmenista was determined to have the highest death rate per capita due to the issue. Other countries ranking among the most problematic included Tajikistan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and China. While the pollution was most prevalent in large cities, the air quality in rural areas was worse than what most people presume, WHO experts said.
Although Europe fared better than the above regions, it still showed considerable pollution. This is largely due to the region’s dependence on diesel fuel and partly due to farm policies that lead to the production of agricultural ammonia and methane.
Poorer countries have more pollution than developed ones, but it “affects practically all countries in the world and all parts of society,” Maria Neira, head of the WHO’s department of public health and environment, said in a statement. “It is a public health emergency. Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough.”
The U.S. Hasn’t Escaped the Pollution Plague
Data from the WHO report showed North America was less polluted than Europe; however, poor air quality is still a public health hazard here. In a 2014 report issued by the American Lung Association (ALA), almost half of the U.S. population live in areas with dangerously high pollution. It estimates that more than 140 million residents live in high-ozone areas, which increases the risk of premature death, cardiovascular events, asthma and breathing problems.
The ALA provides guidelines to reduce your exposure to impure outdoor air. They recommend checking daily air pollution forecasts and refraining from outdoor exercise when it is high. In addition, they advise avoiding exercising in high-traffic areas even when air pollution levels are acceptable. The organization also cautions against burning trash and advocates using electric lawn care instead of gasoline powered lawn care.
Pollution, Climate Change and World Health
As climate-related pages on the website’s of several U.S. agencies are being threatened, the WHO Climate Fact Sheet remains in place and up-to-date with facts and figures about the world’s current air-quality and temperature statistics.
While many climate nay-sayers wonder what skin the WHO has in the climate conversation, the agency has noted, “Climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health.” On its Fact Sheet, the agency goes on to say:
“Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold blooded animals.”
“Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range. For example, climate change is projected to widen significantly the area of China where the snail-borne disease schistosomiasis occurs.”
“Malaria is strongly influenced by climate. Transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, malaria kills almost 600,000 people every year – mainly African children under 5 years old. The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions, andstudies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to dengue … All populations will be affected by climate change.”
Late last year, the WHO released the infographic below (in addition to many others) in hopes to spread awareness about the impact climate stands to have on health around the globe, but a much larger and hyper-targeted effort will be seen with their BreatheLife campaign, which is aiming to activate populations on a city-by-city scale. The website offers the option to view air pollution data in your city, and learn of specific way individuals and cities can get involved on a local level.
What About Indoor Air Quality?
Even people who live in some of the cleanest areas of the country are exposed to substantial quantities of indoor pollution. This comes from an array of chemicals that are a part of many household items such as cleaning products, air fresheners and candles, as well as carpets, furniture and plastics. Other sources include paints, dry-cleaned clothing, household pesticides and hobby supplies. Indeed, it turns out our modern world is pretty toxic, both indoors and out.
So what can you do to help minimize the chemical intake from your home? One easy solution is to add a few plants known to have air-purifying properties. Another option is to invest in an air-cleansing salt lamp or an indoor air filter.
It is also advisable to limit (or altogether ban) the use of known chemical-laden household products like certain personal care items, hazardous cleaning supplies and room fresheners.