Ambient air pollution: A global assessment

Air pollution has become a growing concern in the past few years, with an increasing number of acute air pollution episodes in many cities worldwide. As a result, data on air quality is becoming increasingly available and the science underlying the related health impacts is also evolving rapidly.

This report presents a summary of methods and results of the latest World Health Organization(WHO) global assessment of ambient air pollution exposure and the resulting burden of disease.

Download the full report on Ambient Air Pollution from the who.int website

Climate change and health

All populations will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. In Europe it will be people living on small islands, in coastal regions and on rivers who will be particularly vulnerable.

WHO have produced a fact sheet on climate change and health which provides key facts, outlines patterns of infection, measures health effects and details the WHO’s response.

The key facts include:

  • Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
  • The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030.
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

In 2015, the WHO Executive Board endorsed a new work plan on climate change and health. This includes:

  • Partnerships: to coordinate with partner agencies within the UN system, and ensure that health is properly represented in the climate change agenda.
  • Awareness raising: to provide and disseminate information on the threats that climate change presents to human health, and opportunities to promote health while cutting carbon emissions.
  • Science and evidence: to coordinate reviews of the scientific evidence on the links between climate change and health, and develop a global research agenda.
  • Support for implementation of the public health response to climate change: to assist countries to build capacity to reduce health vulnerability to climate change, and promote health while reducing carbon emissions.

For more information on climate change and health on the who.int website

Air pollution set to rise significantly

In 2010 outdoor air pollution caused more than 3 million premature deaths around the world and the OECD is predicting this will rise to between 6 and 9 million premature deaths a year by 2060, with elderly people and children most vulnerable. These projections imply a doubling, or even tripling, of premature deaths from dirty air – or one premature death every four or five seconds – by 2060.

In their latest report “The economic consequences of air pollution” they estimate the cost of this to be 1% of global GDP  or €2.6 trillion as a result of sick days, medical bills and reduced agricultural output.

For more information and to download the report on air pollution from the oecd.org website.

The health impacts of air pollution

Air pollution is the largest single environmental health risk and a leading cause of disease and death globally.

In the WHO European Region, exposure to particulate matter (PM) accounted for almost 600,000 premature deaths in 2012. The costs associated with premature deaths and diseases caused by air pollution in the Region have been estimated to equal one tenth of the GDP of the EU in 2013.

WHO Europe has developed AirQ+ which can quantify the health impacts of air pollution from different sources in a given population, supporting policy-makers in evaluating risks and taking appropriate action.

AirQ+ calculates the magnitude of selected health effects associated with exposure to the most relevant air pollutants – those for which there is strong evidence on their adverse effects on health – in a given population. It estimates the health burden associated with long- and short-term exposure to ambient air pollution from PM2.5 and small PM (PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and black carbon, as well as long-term exposure to household air pollution from solid fuel use.

For more information about the health impacts of air pollution on the euro.who.int website.

Improving indoor air quality in EU schools

On school days, over 64 million European students and almost 4.5 million teachers are affected by the quality of the air they breathe inside their schools. Asthmatic people are particularly sensitive to poor air quality and pollutants. Indoor air quality in school buildings is affected by outdoor air pollution, building characteristics and operation and management practices, including cleaning, maintenance, and ventilation.

The EU has recently funded a research project: SINPHONIE (Schools INdoor Pollution and Health – Observatory Network In Europe) which monitored air quality and related exposure among 5,175 schoolchildren in 114 primary schools in 23 European countries. It assessed the impact of poor air quality on children’s health, growth, learning performance and development.

The project developed a series of guidelines to promote a cost-effective preventive approach to indoor air quality control. They cover cleaning, ventilation, heating, the use of equipment, as well as structural requirements for school buildings. They also contain specific tips for creating a healthy environment in classrooms, science labs, gyms, school canteens, locker rooms and recreational areas.

The guidelines are intended to complement the already existing efforts at national and local level. They are directed at policy-makers and local authorities, who are able to undertake actions but they can also support construction companies, school staff, children and their parents in their aim to make our schools healthier.

To read more about the project, click here on www.sinphonie.eu