The World Health Organization (WHO) over the weekend warned that skyrocketing air pollution levels are killing millions of people in thousands of cities and are poised to take an “enormous” toll on public health services worldwide.
“We have a public health emergency in many countries from pollution. It’s dramatic, one of the biggest problems we are facing globally, with horrible future costs to society,” said Dr. Maria Neira, head of public health at WHO.
“Air pollution leads to chronic diseases which require hospital space. Before, we knew that pollution was responsible for diseases like pneumonia and asthma,” Neira said. “Now we know that it leads to bloodstream, heart and cardiovascular diseases, too—even dementia.”
The latest figures come from pollution data in 2,000 cities, where growing populations have led to a surge in traffic, construction, and power generation—leaving huge areas to grapple with toxic smog and rising greenhouse gases that cannot be resolved without an overhaul of infrastructure. The WHO next month will issue more in-depth statistics showing the steady rise of pollution in urban areas since 2014.
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