Emissions rise from a refinery in Louisiana. (Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Air Pollution Kills 7 Million People a Year, WHO Reports

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(Bloomberg) -- Toxic levels of pollution leads annually to the early death of an estimated 7 million people, according to a new World Health Organization report.

Nine of 10 people around the world are exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants that can lead to cancer and cardiovascular diseases, according to the study, which drew off the most-recent 2016 data. Air pollution levels were the highest in the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Asia, where in some areas airborne toxins were five times WHO limits and disproportionately affected the poor and most vulnerable.

It’s not just the air outdoors in polluted cities that poses a danger to public health. About 3 billion people are breathing deadly fumes from domestic cooking stoves and fires, according to the Geneva-based agency. Household air pollution caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2016.

More than 90 percent of air pollution deaths affect low and middle income countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, according to the report.

“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”

The least polluted air tends to be found in more developed, richer countries whose governments have taken steps to tackle what British lawmakers previously called a "national health emergency."

Air pollution across the U.K. is linked to around 40,000 early deaths each year, and is draining 20 billion pounds ($27.5 billion) a year from the economy. The country’s shutdown of coal-fired power plants as part of its transition to a low-carbon economy drove air pollution to record lows in 2016.

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