Magazine article The Nation's Health

WHO: Air Pollution a Continuing Health Threat in World's Cities

Magazine article The Nation's Health

WHO: Air Pollution a Continuing Health Threat in World's Cities

Article excerpt

Public health news from around the world

Air pollution is threatening health in many cities worldwide, according to World Health Organization data.

The agency estimates that more than 2 million people die yearly from breathing in particles present in indoor and outdoor pollution. Such particles, which are 10 micrometers or smaller, can penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and acute lower respiratory infections.

"Across the world, city air is often thick with exhaust fumes, factory smoke or soot from coal burning power plants," said WHO Director for Public Health and Environment Maria Neira, MD, MPH. "In many countries, there are no air quality regulations and, where they do exist, national standards and their enforcement vary markedly."

According to a WHO analysis of air quality measurements taken from 2003-2010 and released in September, the largest contributors to urban outdoor air pollution in both developed and developing countries are motorized transportation, small-scale manufacturers and other industries, burning of biomass and coal for cooking and heating and coal-fired power plants. Also, particularly in rural areas during colder months, residential wood and coal burning for space heating is a key contributor to air pollution.

"Local actions, national policies and international agreements are all needed to curb pollution and reduce its widespread health effects," said Michal Krzyzanowski, head of the WHO European Center for Environment and Health in Bonn, Germany.

The analysis of data from nearly 1,100 cities across 91 countries found only a few of those cities meet the WHO air quality guideline for exposure to the most dangerous type of pollution particles. …

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