Air pollution levels remain “dangerously high” in many parts of the world, with nine out of every 10 people living in cities breathing air containing high levels of pollutants.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that seven million people a year die because of air pollution, with people living in parts of Ireland at risk.
Using data from 2013 to 2015, it says people living in Longford, Westmeath, Limerick, Galway City, Bray and Wicklow ingest quantities of particulate matter that includes sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which pose risks to human health.
However, improvements in air quality since 2015, including an extension of the smoky coal ban, has resulted in improvements.
But the most recent air quality report from the Environmental Protection Agency says that while no limits above EU levels were detected, more stringent WHO levels were exceeded at up to 11 sites in 2016, suggesting improvements are needed. The Government says up to 1,500 people die prematurely every year because of air pollution.
The WHO report examined quality in more than 4,300 urban areas across 108 countries and found that most air-pollution-related deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.
“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” said WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“It is unacceptable that over three billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”
The seven million who die every year are exposed to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.
Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.