Dirty City Air Killed More Than 1.8 Million People Globally in 2019

Thursday, January 6, 2022 – Air pollution is shrouding cities around the world – killing people.

A new modeling study finds that 86% of people living in cities worldwide – a total of 2.5 billion people – are exposed to particulate matter at levels that exceed 2005 World Health Organization guidelines.

In 2019, urban air pollution led to 1.8 million excess deaths, according to the study published Jan. The Lancet Planetary Health. The Lancet Planetary Health magazine.

Fine particles 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, PM2.5 are the main environmental risk factor for disease. Inhaling this increases the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, lung cancer, and lower respiratory infections, the researchers say in Essential Notes.

“The majority of the world’s urban population still lives in areas with unhealthy levels of PM 2.5,” said Veronica Sutherland, of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., the study’s lead author. Pollution will require strategies that not only reduce emissions but also improve overall public health to reduce vulnerability.”

The new study expands on PM2.5 research into major cities, including 13,000 cities globally between 2000 and 2019.

The investigators found that the population-weighted average concentration of PM2.5 in all urban areas globally was 35 micrograms per cubic meter in 2019, unchanged from 2000 and seven times the 2021 WHO guidelines.

The team estimated that 61 out of every 100,000 urban deaths were attributable to PM2.5 in 2019.

About 55% of the world’s population lives in cities. Looking at each individually, some areas have seen increases and decreases.

Southeast Asia experienced a 27% increase in population-weighted average PM2.5 concentration between 2000-2019. Deaths attributable to PM2.5 rose 33% during those years, from 63 to 84 per 100,000 people.

African cities saw an 18% decrease in PM2.5 concentrations, European cities saw a 21% decrease, and North and South American cities saw a 29% decrease. However, this does not correspond to the same level of decreases in mortality attributable to PM2.5 on its own. This means that other demographic factors, such as an aging population and poor public health, are influencing factors for pollution-related mortality rates, the authors said.

This study did not evaluate other health burdens attributable to PM2.5, including low birth weight, preterm delivery, and cognitive impairment.


  • The Lancet Planetary Health. The Lancet Planetary HealthPress release, January 5, 2022

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