Air pollution across the world is getting worse, is missing targets for safe levels and is putting the lives and health of millions at risk – figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show.
A reliance on fossil fuels, the use of private cars and buildings which use energy inefficiently can all be blamed for the deterioration of outdoor air quality.
In announcing new figures on the state of air quality in cities, WHO has said half of the urban population monitored for air pollution are exposed to levels 2.5 times higher than recommended.
It follows the announcement that in 2012 3.7m people under the age of 60 died due to air pollution, and combined indoor and outdoor air pollution is one of the biggest threats to public health that exists.
Dr Carlos Dora from the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health warned that cities need to improve the levels of pollution being generated.
“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” he said.
Recent figures revealed by WHO show that the most polluted areas of the United States include Fresno, San Bernardindo and Los Angeles, all in California.
Air pollution is monitored on two difference scales, which relate to the diameter of particles in the air.
Fine particles (known as PM2.5) are produced by all types of combustion including the use of cars, power plants, wood burning and some industrial processes.
Coarse dust particles (PM10) are created from crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred by vehicles travelling on roads.
Internationally, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bahrain have the highest mean for coarse particles. Parkistan and Afrhanistan also feature in the top three countries for fine particles, but are also joined by Qatar.
China, which has received much negative press for its high smoggy cities, does not feature in the top ten of either fine or coarse particles – however the WHO data for the country is from 2010.
Despite the overall bad news from WHO, it does say that some countries are improving the levels of air pollution in their cities.
This is being achieved by a greater use of green energy sources and also optimising mass public transport, rather than private vehicles.
Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health said there is a long way to go but it is possible to combat air pollution.
She said: “Effective policies and strategies are well understood, but they need to be implemented at sufficient scale.
“Cities such as Copenhagen and Bogotà, for example, have improved air quality by promoting ‘active transport’ and prioritizing dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling.”
Featured image courtesy of Lei Han via Flickr/Creative Commons Licence