Externality watch: Air pollution leads to 7 million deaths

From BBC news, air pollution caused 7 million deaths in 2012:

Seven million people died as a result of air pollution in 2012, the World Health Organization estimates.

Its findings suggest a link between air pollution and heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer.

One in eight global deaths were linked with air pollution, making it “the world’s largest single environmental health risk”, the WHO said.

Nearly six million of the deaths had been in South East Asia and the WHO’s Western Pacific region, it found.

Largest single environmental health risk? I hadn’t hear that before but it makes sense because air pollution is a pretty much global phenomenon.

In general, environmental economists tend to think that pollution is not “internalized” meaning that the level of pollution is above the level which is economically efficient. Under economic efficiency there would definitely still be some air pollution because, although the pollution is costly, it would be even more costly to eliminate the pollution entirely.

Here’s how air pollution affects health:

Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives, said the WHO.

WHO family, woman and children’s health assistant director-general Dr Flavia Bustreo said: “Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents non-communicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly.

The WHO assessment found the majority of air pollution deaths were linked with cardiovascular diseases.

For deaths related to outdoor pollution, it found:

  • 40% – heart disease
  • 40% – stroke
  • 11% – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • 6% – lung cancer
  • 3% – acute lower respiratory infections in children

For deaths related to indoor pollution, it found:

  • 34% – stroke
  • 26% – heart disease
  • 22% – COPD
  • 12% – acute lower respiratory infections in children
  • 6% – lung cancer