By Marta Hurtado
“Only one in 10 people breathes air that is within the limits established by the WHO. The other nine breathe air that is harmful to their health, "said María Neira, director of the Department of Environment and Health, at a press conference.
The WHO presented a report in which it assesses the air quality to which the world's population is exposed and quantifies the diseases and deaths derived from this pollution.
The data is the most detailed ever published by WHO, which uses figures from satellite measurements, air transport models, and ground station monitors for more than 3,000 locations in 103 countries, both rural and urban.
The report confirms the data revealed in previous studies that three million deaths per year in 2012 - the most recent figures available - were related to exposure to outdoor pollution.
However, it reduces the number of global deaths due to pollution - both exterior and interior - and leaves it at 6.5 million, when in previous reports it placed it at seven million.
The main sources of air pollution include ineffective transportation models, household fuel burning and waste burning, power plants, and industrial activities.
The main pollutants are the microparticles –with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers– of sulfate, nitrates and soot.
The report does not rank the most polluted countries or the least polluted, it limits itself to saying that the regions with the worst air quality are Southeast Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and the western Pacific.
"We did not want to make a ranking to point a finger at this or that country, but to show the reality and encourage all nations to react, to take action on an issue that is very serious," explained Neira.
The director recalled the billions of dollars that countries spend annually on their health systems to treat diseases caused by pollution, and invited them to make a calculation of what would be saved if they apply public policies to improve the quality of health. air.
"Investing in clean energy, in ecological transport are investments that have an enormous cost-benefit and that would save not only money in the medium term but would reduce the number of sick and dead," he added.
With respect to the least polluted areas, the text indicates that three-quarters of the population of high-income countries in the Americas, as well as 20 percent of the population living in low- and middle-income nations of the same region , they live in places with the air quality considered correct.
A situation that also occurs in less than 20 percent of European countries and the rich countries of the western Pacific.
For example, the report indicates that in Spain in 2012 there were 6,860 deaths attributed to poor air quality, which represents seven deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, a proportion equal to that of the United States, but much higher than the 0.2 registered in Sweden or the 0.3 in New Zealand.
The countries with the most deaths related to air pollution are Turkmekistan with 108 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants; Afghanistan, with 81 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants; Egypt with 77; China with 70; or India with 68.
For its part, in Latin America, Chile recorded 13 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, while Honduras recorded 32; Mexico and Peru, 17; but Venezuela 27.
Almost 90 percent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and nearly two out of three occur in the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.
94 percent of deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, mostly cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, and lung cancer.
Air pollution also increases the risk of acute respiratory infections.
Main air pollutants
Air pollution due to particles, ozone, nitrogen dioxide or heavy metals comes mainly from industry, heating and transport.
Its possible health effects are multiple, including respiratory disorders and even lung cancer or strokes.
More than the moments of maximum pollution, generated in part by the meteorological conditions or the temporary increase in certain activities, it is above all chronic pollution that is the most harmful.
Particles: they are microscopic matters suspended in the air. In the city, these particles blacken the facades of buildings.
There are PM10 (diameter less than 10 microns), coming mainly from mechanical processes such as construction activities, and “fine particles” (PM 2.5, diameter less than 2.5 microns), whose origin is found in the combustion of wood. or of fuels and industrial vapors.
They are considered "the most harmful atmospheric pollutant for human health in Europe", according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). 90 percent of urban citizens are exposed to amounts higher than the limits recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The smallest particles, the most troublesome, penetrate the deep branches of the respiratory tract and also the blood. In addition to cancer, they can cause asthma, allergies, respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2): it is formed in the combustion processes of car engines, boats and even power plants. Diesel engines emit even more of this pollutant.
Being so closely related to transportation, nitrogen dioxide hits cities squarely.
This gas promotes asthma and lung disorders in children. According to the WHO, in Europe and North America, there is currently an association between decreased lung function and NO2 concentrations.
No2 is also the main agent responsible for the formation of nitrate aerosols, which represent a significant proportion of PM 2.5 and ozone, in the presence of ultraviolet rays.
Ozone (O3): this gas arises from chemical reactions, under the effect of the sun, between various pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds (hydrocarbons, solvents ...).
"Ozone is a powerful and aggressive gas" that, at high levels, "corrodes living materials, buildings and tissues," writes the EEA. In the human body it involves "inflammation of the lungs and bronchi".
Road transport, agriculture and the manufacturing industry are responsible for the main pollutants that generate ozone.
Others: sulfur dioxide (coal and oil combustion) causes respiratory pathologies. Ammonia (NH3) is related to emissions from agriculture.
Industry also emits heavy metals - lead, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, mercury - that accumulate in the body.
Indoor air pollution is also harmful.
In total, one death in nine in the world is related to air pollution, says the WHO, which notes the progress in monitoring the phenomenon but calls for "rapid action."
This news was written by Catherine Hours, AFP
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