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Fact Sheet N° 187Revised September 2000AIR POLLUTIONincluding WHO's 1999 Guidelines for Air Pollution ControlExposure to air pollution is as old as the use of fire by human beingsAir pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is a major environmental health problem affecting developed and developing counties alike. It comes from sources of dust, gases and smoke, and is generated mainly by human activities but also naturally. When inhaled, air pollutants affect the lung and respiratory tract but can also be taken up and transported by the blood stream throughout the body. Through deposition in the environment, air pollutants can also contaminate food and water. Health impactEvery year millions of people die or suffer serious health effects from air pollution: mainly respiratory diseases, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer of the lung.o An estimated 3 million people die each year because of air pollution (see Figures for breakdown); this figure represents about 5% of the total 55 million deaths that occur annually in the world. It is possible, because of uncertainty in the estimates, that the actual death toll is anywhere between 1.4 and 6 million annually. o Many studies consistently show the direct link between mortality rates and daily ambient concentrations of suspended particulate matter that have diameters below 10 m m. Life expectancy can be significantly reduced in communities with high levels of particulate matter. o Indoor air exposure to suspended particulate matter increases the risk of acute respiratory infections, one of the leading causes of infant and child mortality in developing countries. In Asia, such exposure accounts for between half and one million excess deaths every year. In sub-Saharan Africa the estimate is 300,000-500,000 excess deaths. o Around 30-40% of cases of asthma and 20-30% of all respiratory diseases may be linked to air pollution in some populations. o Studies...
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