Air Pollution and Your Health

Each year more than 3000 Australians die premature deaths from urban air pollution.

The World Health Organization recently announced that air pollution is now the world’s largest environmental health risk, estimating that air pollution caused ‘3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012’.

In Australia, the evidence is clear that thousands of preventable deaths occur every year. Some communities are much more affected than others, depending on how close they are to pollution sources.

Health Impacts of Air Pollution

Health experts have reported a wide range of adverse health outcomes from air pollution, including exacerbation of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Air pollution worsens asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and can increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack, stroke and lung cancer, and hinders lung development.

Pollutant impacts vary but there is a consensus that there is no ‘safe’ level of exposure for many of these pollutants and that there are harmful impacts from exposure at levels even below the current air quality standards.

Zero: The safe level of exposure to many major pollutants

While air pollution affects everyone, it affects particular groups in the community more than others. Groups who are more likely to be vulnerable to the health effects of air pollutants include:

  • children
  • pregnant women
  • elderly people
  • asthmatics and people with chronic disease (especially heart and lung diseases)
  • low socio-economic groups.

You are most at risk from the health impacts of air pollution if you live near:

  • industrial pollution sources such as coal mines, coal-fired power stations and smelters
  • heavily used road and rail transport corridors
  • wood smoke from home fires

"The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes...Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe."

- World Health Organization Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health

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