Air pollution hits health of 90pc of global population
More than nine out of every 10 people on the planet live in areas where air pollution breaches official safety limits - and millions of people are dying as a result, according to new research by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
An interactive map produced by the WHO shows vast areas of the world are bathed in tiny particles from pollutants such as sulphate, nitrates and black carbon, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and beyond, leading to an array of deadly diseases. China, India, eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa are among the worst affected regions.
Heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer can all be caused by the particles, known as PM2.5 and PM10, which also increase the risk of getting an acute respiratory infection.
While some of the dust is natural in places such as the Sahara, much comes from the burning of fossil fuels, also the cause of global warming.
Almost all of England is above the WHO safety limit, with places where the air is considered safe to breathe largely confined to the rural north-west and parts of Cornwall and Devon. By contrast the vast majority of Scotland's air is below the limits, except for the central belt - particularly Glasgow. Northern Ireland is also largely clear, apart from Belfast.
Air pollution - indoor and outdoor - was linked to the deaths of 6.5 million people worldwide in 2012, representing more than 11pc of all deaths and making it one of the greatest threats to human health. Of those, three million were "solely attributable" to the quality of outdoor air.
The report, 'Ambient air pollution: A global assessment of exposure and burden of disease', admitted there were "significant uncertainties" in the data about air pollution but said the report represented "the best evidence available to date".
But one thing appears clear - just how bad breathing polluted air is for human health. Writing in the report, Dr Maria Neira, director of public health at the WHO, said: "Air pollution has become a growing concern in the past few years, with an increasing number of acute air pollution episodes in many cities worldwide.
"To date, air pollution - both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) - is the biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually. Ambient air pollution alone kills around 3 million people each year, mainly from non-communicable diseases.
"Only one person in 10 lives in a city that complies with the WHO air-quality guidelines. Air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, and affects economies and people's quality of life - it is a public health emergency."