Nearly everybody in the world is breathing in air pollution, says the United Nations. On Monday, the U.N. health agency World Health Organization (WHO) updated its database on air quality. The update provided data on the air quality of over 6,000 cities, towns and villages worldwide. Data revealed that 99% of the world breathes air polluted at levels above WHO’s air quality standards. This pollution exposes everyone to a higher risk of respiratory conditions.
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Global air is congested with particles that can penetrate deeply into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Eastern Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, and African regions experience the poorest air quality. The data and several other reports emphasize that developing countries and marginalized communities are the most affected by this pollution.
“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution,” said Dr. Maria Neira, head of WHO’s department of environment, climate change, and health. “Yet too many investments are still being sunk into a polluted environment rather than in clean, healthy air.”
Previously, WHO only considered PM2.5 and PM10 particles in its pollution analysis. In its latest analysis, the agency included nitrogen dioxide measurements. With the highest amounts of nitrogen coming from fossil fuel burning, urban areas experienced the most concentrated NO2. Exposure to NO2 pollution increases the risk for asthma and other respiratory conditions.
For highly polluted regions like the eastern Mediterranean, transportation, agriculture and industrial waste burning contribute heavily to emissions. Natural sources such as dust also contribute to pollution. Additional areas affected include India, which had the highest rates of PM10, and China, which topped the list of countries with the most PM2.5.
“Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, is capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory impacts,” WHO said. “There is emerging evidence that particulate matter impacts other organs and causes other diseases as well.”
The agency says the world must urgently shift from fossil fuels to address the situation. Unless action is taken, respiratory conditions will increasingly impact millions of lives.
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