Climate Action

Pollution could kill 6.6m people a year by 2050

Air pollution could cause 6.6 million premature deaths a year by 2050, according to a recent study published in the Nature journal

  • 18 September 2015
  • William Brittlebank

Air pollution could cause 6.6 million premature deaths a year by 2050 if nothing is done to improve air quality, according to a warning from scientists on Wednesday.

A recent study published in the Nature journal shows that outdoor air contaminated with pollutants such as ozone and tiny particles currently kills about 3.3 million people a year worldwide.

The majority of the deaths are occurring in Asia where residential emissions from heating and cooking have a major impact.

The number of deaths caused by pollution could double over the next 35 years unless urgent action is taken, according to the research.

Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, who led the research, said: "This is an astounding number… In some counties air pollution is actually a leading cause of death, and in many countries it is a major issue."

Deaths related to air pollution are most commonly from heart disease, strokes or lung disease and is also linked to deaths from lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

The new research shows that in India and China, emissions from heating and cooking are causing the most pollution related deaths while in much of the United States, emissions from traffic and energy generation are accounting for most pollution deaths.

In the eastern U.S., Europe, Russia and East Asia, emissions from agriculture are the biggest source of the fine particulate matter that damages people's lungs, causing illness and death.