Air pollution kills 3.3 million people per year. And that number could double by 2050 if nothing is done to clean up the dangerous levels tiny particles, toxins, and ozone that blanket many countries, especially in Asia.
These are the startling new findings published on Wednesday in the journal Nature by a team of researchers led by Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.
Children under five years of age are the leading victims in developing countries, the scientists say. In the West, most of the premature deaths occur among those over 30 years old. Air pollution—mainly tiny particles known as PM2.5—is known to lead to cancer, as well as to respiratory and pulmonary diseases.
The number of premature deaths linked to air pollution is higher than the annual death toll of HIV and malaria combined, according to the report's lead author, Jos Lelieveld. China has the most pollution-related deaths: nearly 1.4 million each year. The authors note that mortality linked to air pollution is "approximately an order of magnitude higher than that attributable to Chinese road transport injuries and HIV/AIDS, and ranks among the top causes of death." In other words, it's a public health crisis of massive proportions. Toxic pollution from dirty residential heating and cooking in China, as well as in Pakistan and India, is the leading cause of these deaths.