A recently published peer-reviewed study in The Lancet Planetary Health journal has revealed that the vast majority of the earth’s surface is affected by unhealthy air pollution levels on a daily basis. The study highlights that around 99.82% of the global land area is exposed to particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) levels that exceed the safe limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). PM2.5 particles are known to be linked to a higher risk of heart disease and lung cancer. The paper further asserts that only a mere 0.001% of the world’s population breathes air that meets acceptable quality standards.
The study, which researchers in Australia and China jointly conducted, found that in 2019, global daily PM2.5 concentrations exceeded the safe limit set by the WHO of 15 micrograms per cubic meter on more than 70% of days. The issue of air pollution is particularly alarming in southern and eastern Asia, where over 90% of days in the year had PM2.5 concentrations above the recommended threshold. It is worth noting that although any amount of PM2.5 can be harmful, experts are generally more concerned about chronic exposure than daily levels.
Air pollution is responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths yearly, with nearly two-thirds of these deaths caused by fine particulate matter, according to the study. Despite scientists and public health officials being aware of the dangers of air pollution, quantifying global exposure to PM2.5 has been a challenge due to a lack of pollution monitoring stations. The study’s lead researcher, Professor Yuming Guo of Monash University, hopes that the findings will prompt policymakers and scientists to take short-term exposure to PM2.5 more seriously, as sudden increases in exposure have been linked to significant health problems.