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Study finds household and outdoor air pollution contributes to more than 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide per year

New research shows that household (indoor) and outdoor air pollution contribute to more than 5.5 million premature deaths every year. More than half of deaths occur in two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India.

In the context of the Global Burden of Disease 2013 study (earlier post), researchers from Canada, the United States, China and India quantified air pollution levels and attributable health impacts for 188 countries for the period 1990-2013. They found that in 2013 there were 2.9 million deaths (5.3% of all global deaths) caused by outdoor fine particulate air pollution and an additional 215,000 deaths from exposure to ozone. Further, indoor exposure to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels for cooking and heating was responsible for 2.9 million deaths in 2013.

Taken together, air pollution caused 5.5 million deaths in 2013 and was the 4th highest-ranking risk factor for death in the world.

The research, presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), found that despite efforts to limit future emissions, the number of premature deaths linked to air pollution will climb over the next two decades unless more aggressive targets are set.

Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease. Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.

—Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health

Outdoor particulate air pollution specifically was the 7th leading risk factor for death globally, with cardiovascular disease (ischemic heart disease and stroke) accounting for the majority of these deaths.

Additional deaths from air pollution were from lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections. Of these 2.9 million deaths, 64% were in Asia, especially China and India. Even in the US, where air pollution levels are considerably lower than the global average, ambient air pollution was the 13th highest ranked risk factor for deaths with 79,000 estimated in 2013.

Between 1990 and 2013, global exposure to particulate matter air pollution increased by 20%, driven by increases in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China. These increases, combined with population growth, aging and increasing prevalence of diseases impacted by air pollution led to increases in both total deaths from air pollution and the rate of attributable deaths.

In China, burning coal is the biggest contributor to poor air quality. Qiao Ma, a PhD student at the School of Environment, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, found that outdoor air pollution from coal alone caused an estimated 366,000 deaths in China in 2013.

Ma also calculated the expected number of premature deaths in China in the future if the country meets its current targets to restrict coal combustion and emissions through a combination of energy policies and pollution controls. She found that air pollution will cause anywhere from 990,000 to 1.3 million premature deaths in 2030 unless even more ambitious targets are introduced.

Our study highlights the urgent need for even more aggressive strategies to reduce emissions from coal and from other sectors.

—Qiao Ma

In India, a major contributor to poor air quality is the practice of burning wood, dung and similar sources of biomass for cooking and heating. Millions of families, among the poorest in India, are regularly exposed to high levels of particulate matter in their own homes.

India needs a three-pronged mitigation approach to address industrial coal burning, open burning for agriculture, and household air pollution sources.

—Chandra Venkataraman, professor of Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

The research is an extension of the Global Burden of Disease study, an international collaboration led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington that systematically measured health and its risk factors, including air pollution levels, for 188 countries between 1990 and 2013. The air pollution research is led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Health Effects Institute.

Additional facts about air pollution:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines set daily particulate matter at 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

  • At this time of year, Beijing and New Delhi will see daily levels at or above 300 micrograms per cubic meter meter; 1,200 per cent higher than WHO guidelines.

  • While air pollution has decreased in most high-income countries in the past 20 years, global levels are up largely because of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China. More than 85% of the world’s population now lives in areas where the World Health Organization Air Quality Guideline is exceeded.



If the culprits were punished for those 6,000,000 casualties/year and given the same/equivalent sentence, the world would have 12,000,000 people less every year including:

1) 80+% of all existing billionaires.
2) about 60% of existing millionaires.
3) over 50% of all politicians.

Could we really live without them, as easily as they live without the 6,000,000 pollution casualties?

The Lurking Jerk

Have you ever driven a car, or benefitted from indoor heat? Then YOU, HarveyD, are in fact, a murderer.


I have problems with people making educated quess's. How many times have you heard of an autopsy stating the person died of pollution. I realize many with lung problems would last a few weeks/ months longer with no pollution however it is very difficult to determine causes.


Our home/residence have been 100% (clean Hydro + Wind in the last 10 years or so) e-energy (including inside heat) for the last 30+ years. We will switch from 50 mpg HEVs to 100 mpg PHEVs or extended range BEVs/FCEVs as soon as those vehicles + essential public quick charging/refill stations become available.

Note: The 208 internal + external garage spaces of our large condo building are not (yet) equipped with e-charging facilities and may not be for another 5++ years. Only 1% to 2% of the current co-owners are interested. The majority (still) prefers to keep their large gas guzzling polluting ICEVs.

There are doubts that Wood, Coal, Fossil fuels, bio-fuels and NG burning produce GHG and harmful pollution and that all living creatures/things are negatively affected.

You should see the sick and deformed fishes from Lac Mégantic QC, 18 months after a crude oil train crashed most of its burning cargo (72 car load) into the adjacent lake, killing 47 people on the spot, $500+M property damages etc.


5.5 million premature deaths worldwide per year is almost next to nothing compared to the WW-population of approx. 7.5 billion. We all have to die sometime; premature, too early, or too late.
Once a rate of 5.5 billion is reached, they'll start waking up.


If the current all azimuth pollution rate increase is maintained, we (and many other life forms) may die from it and man-made climate changes. That's what is happening to many types of fish, white beluga and black whales etc.

Almost 6,000,000/year is a good start.


HarveyD, feel free to start the die off with your own demise adding weight to your stated beliefs. Otherwise, you are just another calloused first worlder.


Air pollution may be a contributing factor, it is passed time the world realized that fossil fuels are finite and burning them has negative health effects.


Pollution, GHG and climate changes will soon be taken seriously as 10,000,000+ people die every year from the man made unhealthy conditions we are creating.

The link between many cancers and pollution & 4000+ industrial products cannot be hidden much longer.

Burning wood, coal, NG, oil, tar, other fossil and bio-fuels will have to be curtailed.

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