Dirty Air Trumps Heart Disease as #1 Cause of Death?

A recent study by the World Health Organization comparing 1990 and 2010 statistics has found that the number one killer — heart disease — remains unchanged but that deaths caused by air pollution are rising and likely to surpass those by heart disease soon.

From Reuters:

A 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) study found that 3.5 million people die early annually from indoor air pollution and 3.3 million from outdoor air pollution. Toxic particles shorten lives by causing diseases such as pneumonia or cancer.

“The problem has been underestimated in the past,” Maria Neira, the WHO’s director of public health and environment, told Reuters. Smog is an acute problem from Beijing to Mexico City.

Most victims from indoor pollution, caused by wood fires and primitive stoves in developing nations, were women and children.

The data, published as part of a global review of causes of death in December 2012, were an upwards revision of previous figures of 1.9 million premature deaths caused by household pollution a year and 1.3 million outdoors, she said.

The revision reflects better measurements and changes in methods, such as including heart problems linked to pollutants, she said. The numbers cannot be added together because they include perhaps 500,000 from overlapping causes.

“Still, it means more than 6 million deaths every year caused by air pollution,” she said. “The horrible thing is that this will be growing” because of rising use of fossil fuels.

“If we increase access to clean energy … the health benefits will be enormous. Maybe the health argument was not used enough” in debate on encouraging a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies, she said. (emphasis ours)

The 6 million deaths from air pollution compare to the estimated 7 million deaths from heart disease every year.

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