Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
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Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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health and pollution > factfile > air pollution

Air pollution

Posted: 30 Jul 2004

An estimated 3 million premature deaths, mainly in acute and chronic respiratory infections, are now being attributed to exposure to air pollution. Of these, 2.4 million are due to indoor air pollution and 90 per cent of these occur in developing countries. Recent forest fires in South-East Asia are an example of the serious threats from air pollution on a regional scale.

  • Indoor pollutants, such as sulphur and nitric oxides and arsenic compounds, result from open fires which burn biomass (stubble, dung and other residues), coal or wood. They are a special threat to the 1 billion women and children who spend more time indoors.

  • The use of improved cooking stoves in Kenya halved the incidence of chest and eye disease.

  • Bangladesh's capital Dhaka is facing serious health and worker productivity problems from polluted air, caused by population increase, unplanned industrial activities and 160,000 motor vehicles which operate in the city. The main pollutants are suspended particulate matter (SPM), sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

  • In Cairo, fumes from the 1.2 million vehicles, combined with suspended particulate matter and sand blown into urban areas from the neighbouring desert, create an almost permanent haze over the city. Levels of suspended particulate matter and lead pollution are among the highest in the world, creating a high risk of respiratory disorders to the 10.6 million inhabitants.

  • Diesel exhaust contains more than 40 chemicals listed as toxic air contaminants, carcinogens, reproductive toxins or endocrine disrupters. One agency in California has attributed 70 per cent of the total cancer risk to diesel particulates.

  • The Environmental Health Policy Alliance in California has found that childhood cancer rates are 10 per cent higher than they were 20 years ago, and that 600,000 Californian children have asthma, a 160 per cent increase since 1980.

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Wilton International, Teeside, England: one of the largest petrochemicals complexes in Europe. Photo: Ian Britton/FreeFoto.com
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