Why Air Pollution Is So Much Worse Than You Thought, Causing 1 In 8 Global Deaths

The World Health Organization has said that seven million people died from air pollution in 2012, a terrible death toll linked to what they call "the world's single largest environmental health risk." A slew of recent studies have found links between air pollution and forms of cancer, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases; WHO linked about one-eighth of all global deaths in 2012 to air pollution. The worst of it was felt in South East Asia, and the WHO's Western Pacific region, which includes China, Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines.

It's been a pretty harrowing 2014 so far for those concerned with the health implications of air pollution. A number of recent studies have presented compelling potential understandings of the toll that dirty air can have on the human body. One such study found that traffic pollution could cause electrical and physical changes to your heart's structure. Another suggested a potential link between pollution and autism, by way of measuring heightened autism rates among young children with genital malformations, which themselves have been linked to environmental pollutants and toxins.

And another, conducted on young children born in coal pollution-suffused Tongliang county in China, found that the exposure had caused genetic changes which hurt their learning and memory skills.

Just this month, France saw air pollution throughout Paris spike so badly that the government advised young children and the elderly to stay indoors.

Staying indoors in a metropolitan destination like Paris may be a option, but the WHO's findings in regard to indoor air pollution are chilling. In mostly low-to-middle income areas in those South East Asian and Western Pacific regions, most people died as a result of indoor air pollution — about 3.3 million deaths, compared to 2.6 million outdoors.

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The ways in which air pollution wreaks a toll on the human body are becoming better-understood, including how dangerous air pollution can be for people with heart problems or risk of strokes. Most of 2012's pollution-related deaths occurred by way of heart disease, at 40 percent.

Said Dr. Maria Neira, director of the WHO's public health, environmental and social determinants of health department:

The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution. The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.