Air Pollution Rises in Poorest Cities as Health Risks Climb

  • Pollution increased 8%, according to World Health Organization
  • Youngest, oldest and poorest are most affected populations

Increasing air pollution in many of the world’s poorest cities is driving up the risk of stroke, heart disease and lung cancer in some of the most-vulnerable populations, according to a report Thursday from the World Health Organization.

Global urban air pollution rose 8 percent from 2008 to 2013, and nearly all 300 cities in low- and middle-income nations included in the study had air-quality levels below World Health Organization standards. About half the cities in wealthy countries, primarily in Europe and the Americas, had excessive pollution.

Sulfates, nitrates, black carbon and other air pollutants are among the greatest environmental health risks, causing more than 3 million premature deaths worldwide a year, with the youngest, oldest and poorest facing the most risk, according to the study.

“It is crucial for city and national governments to make urban air quality a health and development priority,” Carlos Dora, an epidemiologist with the WHO, said in a statement. “When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows.”

Over 80 percent of people living in urban areas, who help monitor air pollution, are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits, according to the statement. In the past two years, the database has nearly doubled to 3,000 cities in 103 countries as awareness increases, the WHO said.

Cities in Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh made up most of the top 30 most-polluted urban areas with the highest levels of PM 2.5 -- tiny, toxic particles that lead to respiratory diseases.

While India accounted for 14 of the 30 worst polluted cities in the world, other prominent ones were Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, industrial center Al Jubail and Dammam. The Chinese cities of Xingtai, Baoding, Shijiazhuang, Handan, Hengshui and Tangshan -- all in Hebei province -- also figure among the top 30.

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