3.3 How are we polluting our air?
references to update
"There is an air pollution pandemic" Professor Thomas Munzel, Specialist in Interventional Cardiology, Risk Factors and Prevention, University Medical Centre of Mainz
According to the World Health Organisation, a staggering 9 out of 10 people on our planet breathe polluted air (that’s air containing high levels of pollutants), with most air pollutants that we are exposed to coming from the burning of fossil fuels. Indeed, air pollution is the world’s largest environmental cause of disease and premature death across the globe, being responsible for an estimated 7 million premature deaths each year, with 4.8 million dying from outdoor pollution, and the remainder from household pollution. Overall, air pollution kills more people each year than smoking.
The sources of air pollution vary across the world. In many places traffic emissions are now the major source of air pollution but other important sources include industry, coal-fired power plants, agriculture and households. People are also exposed to air pollution in their own homes through indoor burning of fossil fuels and biomass-based fuels such as wood for cooking, lighting and heating. Wildfires also dramatically worsen air pollution in broad areas.
Across Europe, toxic air results in nearly 800,000 early deaths each year. In the UK, air pollution results in 28,000 to 36,000 premature deaths a year and over 60% of people in England are living in areas which exceed the World Health Organisation’s legal limits for air pollution - with more than 40 towns and cities in the UK being at, or exceeding, these limits.
In London alone, two million people are living with illegal toxic air– of which more than 400,000 are children - and 32 out of 33 boroughs exceed legal air quality limits. Air pollution in London has been estimated to cause the deaths of 24 people every single day. The UK’s Environment Audit Committee found that the cost of the health impacts of air pollution was likely to exceed estimates of £8 to 20 billion.
For more information, see section on health threats from air pollution.