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Special Report - Risks from Air Pollution

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The Global Impact of Air Pollution 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently released figures that reveal air pollution contributes to the deaths of 7 million people each year. 

The latest WHO figures measure the amount of pollutants in the air in more than 4,300 cities, towns and other settlements in 108 countries around the world. More cities than ever are now monitoring their air quality and the alarming stats show that 9 in 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollution.     

Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, is quoted as saying, “We are seeing an acceleration of political interest in this global public health challenge. The increase in cities recording air pollution data reflects a commitment to air quality assessment and monitoring. Most of this increase has occurred in high-income countries, but we hope to see a similar scale-up of monitoring efforts worldwide.” 

The WHO data shows that pollution levels are highest in South-East Asia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. Pollution levels were also found to be high in low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific. Many of the world’s megacities also have annual average pollution levels more than five times the WHO safe limit. Illegally high air pollution levels result in some 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK. 

“There is no doubt that air pollution represents today, not only the biggest environmental risk for health, but this is a major challenge for public health at the moment – probably one of the biggest ones we are contemplating,” stated Dr. Neira. 

Air pollution is increasingly recognised as a key risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the biggest cause of death worldwide. Twenty-five per cent of deaths due to heart disease and stroke, 43 per cent of deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29 per cent of deaths due to lung cancer are linked to breathing poor quality air. 

While the largely self-reported data shows that pollution remains high in much of the world, a number of countries – particularly in Europe and the Americas – have started to curb their pollution levels. China, often regarded as one of the world’s worst polluters, has also made surprising progress. A number of other countries such as India and Mexico have also taken positive steps on a smaller scale. 

With growing concerns over the serious effects of air pollution, businesses in all sectors need to sit up and take note. 

Anvil’s latest Special Report provides further information on air pollution and its impact on global health. Produced by our own in-house risk intelligence and medical teams, it reviews the current situation, considers the implications for global businesses, looks at the opportunities for change and provides more immediate advice for organisations and personnel who may be working in or travelling to regions with concerning air quality index levels. 

Access the report here