Many people do not consider air pollution as a factor that can significantly affect how long they live but polluted air is in fact very deadly it is now the fourth leading cause of death worldwide after high blood pressure, poor diet and smoking.

It turns out that more people die from household and outdoor air pollution than from alcohol, drug abuse and unsafe sex as vehicle exhaust, power plants, manufacturing plants and burning of coal release small particles into the air that are harmful to human health.

A new study presented at the 2016 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) showed that air pollution-related diseases such as stroke and cardiovascular diseases kill 5.5 million people globally per year making air pollution the number one environmental cause of diseases worldwide.

Of these deaths, 55 percent, or 3 million occur in two highly populated countries: India and China. About 1.4 million people died because of air pollution in India and about 1.6 million in China in 2013. Outdoor air pollution from coal alone killed about 366,000 people in China.

The researchers likewise said that more air-pollution related deaths will occur over the next two decades unless carbon emission targets are met.

"Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population," said Michael Brauer, from the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Qiao Ma, from the Tsinghua University in Beijing said that air pollution will kill between 990,000 and 1.3 million by 2030 sans ambitious emission targets are set.

Although China has already imposed new standards for vehicles, cleaned up fuel and committed to reduce using coal, the levels of air pollution in the country are up to 10 times higher than the healthy standards that were set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

It isn't just China. More than 85 percent of the global population actually resides in areas where WHO's Air Quality Guideline is exceeded.

In India, the practice of burning wood, dung and similar sources of biomass for heating and cooking primarily contributes to poor air quality with millions of families, the poorest in the developing country, being regularly exposed to high levels of particulate matter in their own homes.

"That is a very important issue in both China and India, somewhat less though in China, where they have started to move people on to propane and natural gas to get them away from using coal," said Health Effects Institute President Dan Greenbaum. "In India, a very significant number of the people still burn very poor wood and biomass fuels, cow dung and other sources. And that creates major exposures indoors to the mothers and children, for example, who are cooking or are near the stove."

In the U.S., air pollution is the 13th highest risk factor for premature death killing 80,000 individuals in 2013.

Older people are known to be more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution but research also suggests that exposure to polluted air also harms unborn babies upping their risk for developing asthma.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.