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Study: 87% of world’s population in 2013 lived in areas exceeding WHO PM2.5 guidelines

In 2013, 87% of the world’s population lived in areas exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guideline of 10 μg/m3 PM2.5 (annual average), according to a major international study published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Between 1990 and 2013, global population-weighted PM2.5 increased by 20.4%, driven by trends in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China, according to the team’s findings. However, decreases in population-weighted mean concentrations of PM2.5 were evident in most high income countries. Additionally, the study found that the population-weighted mean concentrations of ozone increased globally by 8.9% from 1990–2013 with increases in most countries—except for modest decreases in North America, parts of Europe, and several countries in Southeast Asia.

Estimated 2013 annual average PM2.5 concentrations (μg/m3). The estimates are generated from the grid cell average of satellite-based estimates and TM5-FASST simulations and calibrated with a prediction model incorporating surface measurements. Credit: ACS, Brauer et al. Click to enlarge.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2013 provided important estimates of the global health impacts attributable to ambient air pollution. Ambient particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5, particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter 2.5 μm or smaller) was identified as a leading risk factor for global disease burden with an estimated 2.9 million attributable deaths in the year 2013. An additional 217,000 deaths were attributable to long-term ozone exposure. These two pollutants were selected as indicators of exposure to ambient air pollution based on extensive epidemiologic and mechanistic evidence indicating independent adverse health impacts.

… In the context of the most recent update of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD 2013) we developed updated and revised global exposure estimates for PM2.5 and ozone (O3). We incorporated improvements in satellite-based estimation of PM2.5, internally consistent emissions inventories spanning 2.5 the 1990−2010 period and a substantially increased number of ground measurements of particulate matter, compared to those utilized previously.

—Brauer et al.

For the study, the researchers combined satellite-based estimates; chemical transport model simulations; and ground measurements from 79 different countries to produce global estimates of annual average fine particle (PM2.5) and ozone concentrations at 0.1° × 0.1° spatial resolution for five-year intervals from 1990 to 2010 and the year 2013.

They then applied these estimates to assess population-weighted mean concentrations for 1990–2013 for each of 188 countries.

Half of the 79 countries were high income countries in North America (25%), Western (32%), and Central (12%) Europe. Aided by a major expansion of China’s air quality monitoring network, 10% of the ground measurements were from East Asia, and 5% were from South Asia.

Countries in 11 regions (Andean Latin America; Australasia; Central Asia; Eastern Europe; High-income Asia Pacific; North Africa and Middle East; Southeast Asia; Southern Latin America; Southern Sub-Saharan Africa; Tropical Latin America; Western Sub-Saharan Africa) each contributed less than 3% of the measurement data. No measurements came from the other four regions (Caribbean, Central Latin America, East, and Central sub-Saharan Africa) of the world.

The highest measured annual average PM2.5 concentration in the assembled measurement database was 194 μg/m3 in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province in China, while the lowest was <1 μg/m3, measured in Soldotna, Alaska.

Among the general findings:

  • The highest concentrations of PM2.5 were evident in northern Africa and the Middle East due to emissions of windblown mineral dust; and in South and East Asia—especially in northern India and eastern China—due to combustion emissions from multiple sources including household solid fuel use, coal fired power plant emissions, landscape fires, industrial and transportation-related emissions.

  • Ozone concentrations were less variable spatially, but relatively higher in parts of the US, the Amazon Basin, sub-Saharan Africa, and throughout much of southern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

  • 35% of global population resided in areas with concentrations above the WHO Interim Target 1 of 35 μg/m3 annual average PM2.5 with nearly all of the most extreme (>65 μg/m3) concentrations experienced by populations in China and India.

  • 87% of the global population resided in areas above the WHO guideline of 10 μg/m3, with essentially none of the population of China (0.4%) or India (0.01%) living in areas meeting this level.

  • Large relative decreases in estimated PM2.5 concentrations between 1990 and 2013 at the 0.1° x 0.1° grid cell level were evident in the Eastern US, Europe, Russia and in parts of Southeast Asia.

  • Large relative increases were apparent in Western Canada, parts of South America, the Middle East, India and China. Somewhat similar patterns were also evident for ozone.

  • Between 1990 and 2013, decreases in population-weighted mean concentrations of PM2.5 were evident in most of high income countries—in contrast to consistent increases in South Asia, much of Southeast Asia, and in China.

  • There were modest decreases in population-weighted ozone levels in the US, Mexico, and Canada as well as parts of Europe, likely due to implementation of air quality management programs, and several countries in southeast Asia.


  • Michael Brauer, Greg Freedman, Joseph Frostad, Aaron van Donkelaar, Randall V. Martin, Frank Dentener, Rita van Dingenen, Kara Estep, Heresh Amini, Joshua S. Apte, Kalpana Balakrishnan, Lars Barregard, David Broday, Valery Feigin, Santu Ghosh, Philip K. Hopke, Luke D. Knibbs, Yoshihiro Kokubo, Yang Liu, Stefan Ma, Lidia Morawska, José Luis Texcalac Sangrador, Gavin Shaddick, H. Ross Anderson, Theo Vos, Mohammad H. Forouzanfar, Richard T. Burnett, and Aaron Cohen (2015) “Ambient Air Pollution Exposure Estimation for the Global Burden of Disease 2013” Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03709

  • Forouzanfar, Mohammad H et al. (2015) “Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks in 188 countries, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013” The Lancet, Volume 386, Issue 10010, 2287 - 2323 doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00128-2



Eastern Canada seems to be doing well. With cheap gas these days we could go back to gas guzzling V-8 and CPPs?


If we are to save our civilization, we must make the decisions necessary to stop mining carbon and stop burning fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, in the atmosphere. That means giving up internal combustion transportation in favor of electric vehicles ASAP. And, that also means replacing coal and gas fired power plants with renewables and battery storage ASAP.

BTW, I see a lot of news about fossil fuel driven engines on this blog...the only thing that makes sense is to replace them and dump the idea of using ICEs, so they don't linger around for decades continuing to pollute.

We must make decisions that are driven by 'What is best for ourselves in the long run' It's not that hard. Efficiency is the word to follow. Usually whatever is the most efficient is the least polluting.


Nothing will change because the 1% looks at this as population control.


In many parts of the world an EV trades a tailpipe for a smoke stack.


In many parts of the world, an EV does NOT trade a tailpipe for a smoke stack and in most it's still better.


Where does most of the world get its electricity? China and India use coal.


The main worry I have about pollution is our politicians, specifically the GOP, The Republicans, with few exceptions, have been campaigning for the gross polluters, against carbon mitigation for years and as we speak they are fighting to see who wins the GOP nomination and the pot of money from the fossil fuel gross polluters...the coal, oil and gas interests!

The coal, oil and gas pollution can be cleaned up and stopped; but, only if we can move the GOP out of the way so we can get started. I think this next election is the most critical in our history because if the GOP controls the White House and the Congress, they will work to continue the status quo on fossil fuels and against cleaning up our World...it may very well be the last nail in the Planet's coffin.


Donald Trump may have identified a more urgent problem for USA's (and the world as we know it) survival?

GHGs and pollution problems will also have to be better addressed and managed before it is too late. NPPs and ICEVs may have to go.

Lack of fresh water for farming, in many areas, will also become a major problem to be solved. Improved filters, like the new Lockheed (LMT) Perforene Membrane (and others) may be a lower cost way to filter sodium, chlorine etc from sea water. Western USA and Canada are feeling the (dry) effects already.

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