The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed new data that says 99 percent of the world's population currently breathes polluted air that "exceeds WHO air quality limits, and threatens their health."
This statistic comes four years after the agency showed that 90 percent of the world's population were affected by polluted air, and the agency has blamed millions of deaths around the world each year on the many pollutants that we take into our bodies way too often.
"The evidence base for the harm caused by air pollution has been growing rapidly and points to significant harm caused by even low levels of many air pollutants," WHO said.
Despite some considerable improvements in overall air quality around the world during the lockdown stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has returned to being a major problem that the agency says must be tackled promptly.
"After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have seven million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution," said Maria Neira, the head of WHO's department of public health and environment.
This new outburst comes amid the agency's recent extensive study that took into account air quality data from over 6,000 cities and towns across 117 countries.
The results showed how billions of people are now breathing in unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter – between 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) and 10 micrometers (PM10) – that include toxic chemicals such as sulfate and black carbon that can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system.
In a large number of cities, the study also managed to get a read on the levels of nitrogen dioxide – which is known as a pollutant commonly found in urban areas that can lead to many respiratory illnesses such as asthma and chronic lung disease.
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Sadly, it was also consistently shown that those living in low and middle-income locales suffered the highest exposures all throughout.
For example, it was revealed that the air in only 17 percent of high-income cities studied fell below the WHO's guidelines for PM2.5 and PM10, while a whopping 99 percent of low-income cities in the study had air quality that did not comply with the guidelines.
As for nitrogen dioxide levels, the study found that from over 4,000 cities across 74 countries, only 23 percent of people were able to breathe in concentrations of the gas that complied with the yearly levels set by the WHO.
In response, the agency said that it was imperative that the use of fossil fuels be lowered, and that the current peaking prices of oil and gas could serve to influence more people to switch to cleaner alternatives.
"Current energy concerns highlight the importance of speeding up the transition to cleaner, healthier energy systems," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"High fossil fuels, energy security, and the urgency of addressing the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change underscore the pressing need to move faster toward a world that is much less dependent on fossil fuels."