Air pollution kills some three million people around the world each year

Air pollution kills three million people a year around the world

Air pollution including that from traffic, industrial sources and agriculture kills more than three million people around the world every year, new research suggests.

While in the generally worst-affected Asian countries, methods of heating and cooking contribute greatly to the statistics, in the US the number one source of lethal pollution is traffic. In Europe, Russia and eastern Asia, the study says, agricultural sources play the biggest part.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Nature and carried out by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, focused on all types of outdoor pollution including ozone, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from traffic.

Combining a global atmospheric chemistry model with population data and health statistics, the researchers predicted that mortality from pollution will continue to increase and could reach 6.6 million per year by 2050.

"Our results suggest that if the projected increase in mortality attributable to air pollution is to be avoided, intensive air quality control measures will be needed, particularly in South and East Asia,” said Professor Jos Lelieveld, who led the study.

"The poorly characterised uncertainty about the relative toxicity of various classes of particles such as sulphates, nitrates, organics, crustal materials, black carbon, and especially smoke from biomass combustion, limits unambiguous attribution of sources. Nevertheless, our study suggests that emissions from residential energy use should be considered in air pollution control strategies and, if all fine particles are equally toxic, the reduction of agricultural emissions would improve air quality."

In the European Union, new legislation on sampling and analysis of outdoor air pollution data entered into force today, aiming to reduce harmful effects of air pollution on human health and the environment.

The new directive of the European Commission sets more detailed and stringent rules on collecting data and prescribes newer reference methods for the sampling and analysis of arsenic, cadmium, nickel, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, mercury in ambient air, and their deposition. It also prescribes more recent reference methods for the assessment of concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead, benzene, carbon monoxide and ozone.

EU member States will have to put in place legislation enforcing the new rules by 31 December 2016.

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