By now you have surely seen the pictures of the hazy pollution filled days in Beijing. The level of pollution there seems almost unbelievable but its not even the worst. At the time of writing this article, the real-time pollution index in a small town called Saint-Denis on the French controlled island of Réunion in the Indian ocean had the worst air quality in the world (7 times worse than Beijing). You can check the air quality in your city and cities around the world at this website. Most of us are familiar with outdoor air pollution that is caused by the emissions from our cars and factories but indoor air pollution is a large problem in many of the underdeveloped parts of our world. The main contributor to indoor air pollution is wood burning stoves for cooking. Regardless of the form, air pollution is composed of a variety of harmful gases and small particles (particulate matter). Particulate matter is being recognized as one of the most harmful components of pollution. These small particles get trapped deep within your lung where start to kill cells and cause inflammation. Much research has been done identifying how pollution affects our lungs, hearts, and overall quality of life. There are links between air pollution and asthma, COPD, cancer, and early death. New research led by a group at the University of British Columbia has put an estimate on the number of lives lost per year to complications from air pollution.
Air pollution is the 4th highest risk factor for death globally. Their work shows that annually 5.5 million people die due to household and outdoor air pollution. Over half of these deaths occurred in China and India with death tolls in 2013 of 1.6 million and 1.4 million respectively. Startlingly 85% of the worlds population lives in an area of the world where the daily pollution is higher than what is considered safe. The maximum allowable level of particulate matter or air pollution set by the WHO is 25 micrograms per cubic metre. In Beijing and New Delhi, the levels can reach 300 micrograms per cubic metre. There is a dire need for strict control of the particulate matter levels in countries around the world to help curb the rising deaths from pollution. The researchers suggest that if we don’t get it under control, the number of deaths attributed to air pollution will only rise as the population in many countries is getting older.