Air pollution, particularly indoor air pollution, is responsible for the deaths of seven million people annually, reports the World Health Organization.
More than half of the deaths each year are a result of pollution from indoor cooking stove fuels including wood, coal and cow dung, used widely throughout the developing world.
The report was based on data from 2012, which the organization notes was twice as high as 2008 estimates, reports National Geographic. Kirk Smith, professor of global environmental health at the University of California at Berkeley, told the WHO, “Having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour.”
According to Carlos Dora, coordinator for the WHO Interventions for Healthy Environments unit, “The home with a dirty cookstove using coal can reach 2,000 or 3,000 micrograms per cubic meter of particles.” That’s approximately 200 to 300 times greater than the WHO’s safe expose daily standard for maximum concentration of the particles in air pollution. It’s about “25 to 100 times smaller than a human hair—that can settle deeply in the lungs,” explains National Geographic. “Breathing those microscopic dirty particles causes more than lung cancer, which is responsible for only 6 percent of the seven million premature deaths caused by air pollution. The vast majority of deaths—69 percent—are due to heart disease or stroke.”
The cases of cardiovascular disease from air pollution have risen since the last report from the WHO. The organization now has better methods for measuring pollution levels outside of urban areas. “There are more epidemiological studies showing a clear connection between air pollution and heart disease and stroke. The evidence now is robust,” says Dora. “And we have better models of how pollution travels and more monitoring stations in rural areas.
Deaths attributed to air pollution were higher among men in regions including western Pacific, Southeast Asian, and Africa—about 49 percent, and 42 percent for women. Fewer than 400,000 deaths from air pollution were found in high-income countries including Europe and the Americas.
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