Data Review: How many people die from air pollution?

-Our World in Data presents the data and research to make progress against the world’s largest problems.

-This article draws on data and research discussed in our entry on 
Air Pollution

The purpose of this Data Review is to present the estimates of the global death toll from air pollution published in major recent studies and to provide the context that makes understandable what these estimates refer to.

The two most widely-cited estimates attribute around 7 million deaths per year to air pollution. But the published estimates span a wide range.

More recent studies tend to find a higher death toll than earlier studies. This is not because air pollution – at a global level – is worsening, but because the more recent scientific evidence suggests that the health impacts of exposure to pollution is larger than previously thought.

First I provide an overview and context to the problem of air pollution. This is followed by these estimates and explanations, given study-by-study.

Exposure to air pollutants increases our risk of developing a range of diseases. These diseases fall into three major categories: cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and cancers.

It makes sense to think of these estimates as ‘avoidable deaths’ – they are the number of deaths that would be avoided if air pollution was reduced to levels that would not increase the risk of developing these lethal diseases.

Death is, of course, not the only negative consequence of air pollution. Many millions more suffer from poor health as a result.

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