Air quality has certainly improved in the U.S. over the last few decades—thanks to the Clean Air Act—but it's still one of the top health concerns around the world. A new report compiled by global health professionals pegs the toll of outdoor air pollution at a staggering 3.2 million premature deaths a year.
Particulate pollution like soot does the most damage, especially in the booming smog-choked cities across Asia. The report, published in the Lancet, finds that outdoor air pollution is the No. 4 health risk there, right behind smoking. Here in the U.S., it's still a major threat too, despite our progress since the sooty seventies. The report asserts that air pollution is the 8th greatest danger to premature birth worldwide.
The NRDC explains how it is that air pollution is so deadly:
It is the very finest soot – so small that it lodges deep within the lungs and from there enters the bloodstream – that contributes to most of the public health toll of air pollution including mortality. Diesel soot, which is also a carcinogen, is a major problem because it is concentrated in cities along transportation corridors impacting densely populated areas. It is thought to contribute to half the premature deaths from air pollution in urban centers. For example one in six people in the U.S. live near a diesel pollution hot spot like a rail yard, port terminal or freeway.Point is, there are still hundreds of millions—if not billions—of people around the world who suffer the ill effects of particulate pollution. It's not just premature deaths, either; it's asthma, respiratory illness, cancer, and so on. Transitioning to cleaner energy sources and cleaner, lower-emissions vehicles will begin alleviate that suffering.
And we should be probably be actively working towards a world where three million people don't have to die early every year because they live too near a truck route or a power plant.