30 Alarming Air Pollution Statistics to Be Terrified Of


Air Pollution Statistics

Pollution is on the rise across the globe, and air pollution, in particular, is a real problem. The W.H.O. finds that air pollution contributes to 8 million deaths per year, making it the largest environmental cause of disease.

To give you a better understanding of what we’re up against, we’ve been working on something really alarming. It’s a comprehensive look at air pollution statistics around the world. We had no idea that air pollution was such a serious problem—and we’re guessing you might not have, either!

Air pollution is a growing problem, and it’s not just affecting the outdoors. If you’ve been having trouble breathing in your home, air pollution is a likely culprit.

We pulled together over 30 facts and statistics about air pollution that we think you’ll find interesting so you can quickly see what the problem is and why it’s so important that we all work together to fix it.

We hope these stats will inspire you to take action with us.

Let’s get started!

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Air Pollution Statistics – Editor’s Choice

How many people die from air pollution? Is outdoor or indoor pollution more dangerous? What countries are the best place to live when air quality is considered? Below, we’ve handpicked the top air pollution stats and trends for you!

  • Air pollution contributes to 11.65% of deaths globally.
  • 6.67 million people died from air pollution in 2019.
  • Bhiwadi in India was the world’s most polluted city in 2021.
  • Chu in Kazakhstan was the city with the cleanest air in 2021.
  • 4.51 million people died of outdoor air pollution, and 2.31 million people died of indoor air pollution in 2019.
  • The global air pollution death rate was 85.62 per 100,000 people in 2019.
  • The global air pollution death rate decreased by 45.14% between 1990 and 2019.
  • Adults above 70 are most affected by outdoor air pollution worldwide.
  • 1.85 million people in China died from outdoor and indoor air pollution.

Are you intrigued already? If so, we have many more alarming but also some hopeful statistics on air pollution across the globe!

 

Worldwide Air Pollution Statistics

1. In 2019, 6.67 million people worldwide died due to air pollution.

Out of those, 4.51 million deaths, or 67.61%, resulted from outdoor air pollution. The number of deaths from indoor air pollution was significantly lower at 2.31 million. The figure of 6.67 million deaths from air pollution (indoor and outdoor) placed this risk-factor third among the most common causes of death globally.

Surprisingly, the number of deaths from indoor air pollution in 1990 was 4.36 million, while 2.25 million of the population died from outdoor air pollution. Overall, indoor and outdoor air pollution was the second risk factor according to the number of deaths.

Indoor air pollution prevention has been relatively successful as the years progressed. On the other hand, outdoor air pollution remains one of the most significant risk factors.

(Our World in Data)

 

2. The global air pollution death rate has declined over the years.

In 2019, the global air pollution death rate was 85.62 per 100,000 people. The outdoor and indoor air pollution death rates were 52.67 and 30.15 per capita, respectively.

The total death rate globally has seen a significant improvement. In 1990, it was 156.05, in 2000 it was 132.34, and in 2010 it was 106.02. Between 1990 and 2019, the global air pollution death rate decreased by an impressive 45.14%.

A similar trend is seen in the indoor air pollution death rate. This segment went from 100.08 in 1990 to the current 30.15 in 2019. By contrast, the outdoor air pollution death rate slightly increased from 53.15 in 1990 to 55.31 in 2014, only to drop to 52.67 in 2019.

(Our World in Data)

 

3. China is the country with the most deaths attributed to air pollution.

In 2019, 1.85 million people in China died from outdoor and indoor air pollution. China was closely followed by India, where 1.67 million deaths from poor air quality were recorded in the same year.

Pakistan was the third country with the most deaths due to bad air quality outdoors and indoors. Here, 235,657 people lost their lives due to this risk factor.

(Our World in Data)

 

4. Small islands and countries have the lowest number of deaths due to air pollution.

Tokelau is a small group of atolls and a New Zealand-dependent territory that boasts zero deaths from air pollution. Other small countries and islands have equally positive results regarding the number of deaths.

PlaceDeaths due to air pollution
Tokealu0
Niue1
Nauru2
Cook Islands4
Tuvalu4
Palau5
Greenland7
San Marino7

Malta, Estonia, New Zealand, Finland, and Norway are some better-known countries with a low death count regarding air pollution. Their respective 2019 numbers of deaths due to poor air quality were 162, 207, 334, 417, and 454.

(Our World in Data)

 

5. The number of air pollution deaths in developed countries is generally low.

Below, you’ll find the number of indoor and outdoor air pollution deaths in selected developed countries. As you can see, these figures aren’t significant compared to the total population in those countries.

CountryDeaths due to air pollution
Australia1907
Canada4381
Spain11785
United Kingdom15711
Germany29249
Japan42565
United States60915

(Our World in Data)

 

6. Air pollution contributes to more than 11% of all deaths across the world.

In 2019, air pollution contributed to 11.65% of global deaths. This segment is one of the leading factors for countries’ disease burden and affects most countries with low-to-middle income levels.

(Our World in Data)

 

7. WHO data shows a link between indoor air pollution and adverse health impacts.

Research by the World Health Organization recorded the most frequent health outcomes from overexposure to indoor air pollutants.

According to the collected data, deaths caused by indoor air pollution are 27% a result of pneumonia, another 27% from ischaemic heart disease, 20% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 18% from stroke, and 8% from lung cancer.

(Our World in Data)

 

8. Outdoor ozone pollution caused six deaths per 100,000 globally in 1990.

Outdoor ozone pollution has been stagnant for a couple of decades now. In 2019, only 4.70 fatalities were attributed to this risk factor. On the other hand, deaths from outdoor particulate matter have been inconsistent, and in 2013, 55.37 people died. This number hasn’t changed much since 1990, when 53.15 deaths were caused by ozone pollution.

Indoor air pollution levels have significantly gone down in the past three decades. In 1990, the world counted 100.08 deaths due to this risk factor. In 2019, this number went down to 30.15. Indoor and outdoor air pollution counted 156.05 deaths in 1990 and only 85.62 in 2019 globally.

(Our World in Data)

 

9. Very few parts of the world abide by WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines for air pollution exposure.

The majority of the globe experiences higher-than-recommended exposure to outdoor air pollution, despite WHO’s warnings. The areas that have established clear boundaries are the United States, Canada, the Nordic countries, and a few islands.

New Zealand, Finland, and Canada lowered outdoor air pollution levels to 0% in 2017.

In that same year, the most-afflicted regions with nearly 100% exposure to outdoor air pollutants were South America, Africa, and Asia. World powers like Russia (91.61%) and China (100%) have not abided by WHO’s guidelines, putting their populations at risk of premature death caused by outdoor air pollution.

(Our World in Data)

 

10. Adults above 70 are most affected by outdoor air pollution worldwide.

Premature deaths from outdoor air pollution aren’t only attributed to one specific age group. However, elders suffer the most – around 539.95 died in 2019 per 100,000. The second most-affected age group is adults 50-69 (104.06 deaths per 100,000), and the third somewhat affected age group is adults under 50s (35.22 deaths per 100,000).

Children aged 5-14 are the least affected, with under one fatality per 100,000 in 2019. The population aged 15-49 sees about eight lost lives per 100,000.

Age GroupDeaths per 100,000
0-5 years35.22
6-14 years0.48
15-49 years8.33
50-69 years104.06
70+ years539.95

(Our World in Data)

 

Air Pollution Statistics by Region and Country

 

11. Bhiwadi in India was the world’s most polluted city in 2021.

The city Bhiwadi topped the infamous IQAir chart of the most polluted cities with an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 106.2 μg/m³. It was followed by Ghaziabad, India (102 μg/m³) and Hotan, China (101.5 μg/m³).

In fact, four other Indian cities were among the worst cities by air pollution, including Delhi, Jaunpur, Noida, and Baghpat.

The remaining three worst cities in this regard were all in Pakistan. Those cities were Faisalabad (94.2 μg/m³), Bahawalpur (91 μg/m³), and Peshawar (89.6 μg/m³).

(IQAir)

 

12. Cities in Kazakhstan, Australia, and Portugal dominated with their clean air.

Chu in Kazakhstan was the city with the cleanest air, with a concentration of PM2.5 of only 1.5 μg/m³.

Australia had seven cities in the top ten list, and those were St. Helens (1.9 μg/m³), Judbury (2 μg/m³), Emu River (2.1 μg/m³), Mornington (2.4 μg/m³), Gretna (2.6 μg/m³), Derby (2.6 μg/m³), and Exeter (2.7 μg/m³).

The top ten list is rounded up with Alcoutim and Salao in Portugal, both of which had an annual average concentration of PM2.5 of 2.7 μg/m³.

(IQAir)

 

13. Krasnoyarsk, Russia, was the most polluted city in Europe.

The city’s annual average concentration of PM2.5 was 49.8 μg/m³, which is still much lower than the results recorded in the world’s most polluted cities. Novi Pazar, Serbia, and Foca, Bosnia Herzegovina, came next.

Europe’s top three cities with the cleanest air were Alcoutim (Portugal), Salao (Portugal), and Bredkalen (Sweden).

(IQAir)

 

14. 4.2 million deaths every year can be attributed to outdoor air pollution.

The WHO reports that most of the world’s population—99%—breathes air containing pollutants in excess of safety limits.

Find the annual average concentration of PM2.5 in selected global metropolises below. These figures are from the data by IQAir for 2021.

Note: The WHO considers an annual average PM2.5 concentration above 10 μg/m³ to be unhealthy.
  • Vienna, Austria – 11.8 μg/m³
  • London, United Kingdom – 9.8 μg/m³
  • Paris, France – 13.7 μg/m³
  • Toronto, Canada – 9.3 μg/m³
  • New York, United States – 10 μg/m³
  • Moscow, Russia – 11.9 μg/m³
  • Beijing, China – 34.4 μg/m³
  • Tokyo, Japan – 9.1 μg/m³
  • Munich, Germany – 10.3 μg/m³
  • Singapore, Singapore – 13.8 μg/m³
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates – 36.9 μg/m³
  • Sydney, Australia – 5.3 μg/m³
  • Johannesburg, South Africa – 27.3 μg/m³
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina – 13.6 μg/m³

(IQAir, WHO)

 

15. The death rates from indoor and outdoor air pollution spiked in African countries in 2019.

Nearly 400,000 people in Africa died from outdoor air pollution and about 700,000 more from indoor air pollution in 2019. Thus, air pollution is a significant risk factor across the continent that results in about a million lost lives every year.

The Central African Republic saw the highest death rate in 2019 across the continent, with roughly 287 lives lost per capita. Somalia is right behind, counting 280 air pollution victims per capita. In third place comes Guinea Bissau, with 243.93 deaths that year. Libya relatively kept the number of deaths at a lower rate of 71.9 deaths per capita.

(Our World in Data)

 

16. In 2019, Europe saw the lowest air pollution death rate.

The Northern European region was least affected by indoor and outdoor air pollution.

In Finland, only 3.14 lives were lost during the year from this risk factor. Sweden is right behind, counting roughly 3 deaths across the country. The third least-affected European country by air pollution in terms of death rate is Norway, with 4.35 deaths in 2019.

Overall, the death toll caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution across Europe has decreased by 61% since 1990.

(Our World in Data)

 

17. North Macedonia, is the European country with the highest air pollution death toll.

Air pollution preventive measures in the country haven’t improved much over the past three decades – North Macedonia saw 191.5 deaths in 1990.

The latest statistics in 2019 don’t show a significant improvement, as the country recorded 118.42 deaths due to air pollution per capita. Still, it is essential to note that fatalities have generally decreased over the years.

An exception applies to 1996 when the country saw the most indoor and outdoor air pollution deaths – 191.53 per 100,000.

(Our World in Data)

 

18. The American region has seen a dramatic drop in deaths from air pollution throughout the years.

In 1990, the air pollution death rate was at an all-time high. That same year, 56.56 people died from indoor and outdoor air pollution, 33.07 passed prematurely due to toxic outdoor particulate matter, and 21.66 died from indoor air pollutants. Outdoor ozone pollution caused 2.14 deaths. Luckily, as the years passed, the death numbers have only dropped.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the total air pollution death rate counted 23.94 fatal cases. The outdoor particulate matter caused 17.43 deaths, indoor air pollutants 5, and outdoor ozone pollution 1.63.

Let’s see the death rates from air pollution in selected American countries in 2019:

  • United States – 10.55 per 100,000 people
  • Canada – 6.15 per 100,000 people
  • Mexico – 43.91 deaths per 100,000 people
  • Bolivia – 76.7 deaths per 100,000 people
  • Brazil – 27.07 deaths per 100,000 people
  • Haiti – 200.68 deaths per 100,000 people
  • Uruguay – 14.4 deaths per 100,000 people

(Our World in Data)

 

19. The indoor pollution mortality rate is highest in developing countries.

A 2017 data shows that lower-income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, struggle to tackle indoor air pollution. Countries in the Horn of Africa count hundreds of deaths yearly. Somalia saw 272.02 deaths per 100,000 in 2019 and hasn’t seen a significant drop over the years either (346.7 in 1990).

Only North African countries like Algeria, Libya, and Egypt have successfully tackled this issue. Experts reveal that developing countries still haven’t combated indoor air pollution because they rely on inefficient cooking appliances and open fires.

(Our World in Data)

 

20. Wealthy countries effectively fight against indoor air pollutants.

World powers like the United States and Germany saw less than 0.1 deaths per 100,000 from indoor air pollution in 2019.

North America, Europe, and Australia remain almost untouched by indoor air pollution. Canada and Norway are shining examples of this – the countries see less than 0.01 fatalities per year.

These countries implement the latest technology to keep the air inside fresh and clean, like air conditioners and dehumidifiers. In addition, most of these countries have strict air pollution laws.

(Our World in Data)

 

21. In 2019, air pollution contributed to 15.83% of deaths in Haiti.

This North American state is most affected by indoor and outdoor air pollution. Next came Honduras with 11.51% of deaths annually, Guatemala with 10.38%, and Nicaragua with 9.97%.

The majority of North America remains unaffected, though. In the United States, Greenland, and Canada, there were 2%, 1.51%, and 1.5% air pollution fatalities, respectively.

These three states and Saint Kitts and Nevis (2.32%) and Puerto Rico (1.3%), may soon bring down the number of deaths to 0%.

(Our World in Data)

 

22. Africa has seen a jump in death rates from air pollution since 1990.

The African mainland is most affected by air pollutants on a global scale. While the world has seen the number of deaths attributed to air pollution decline, the numbers here are skyrocketing.

The situation hasn’t changed much since 1990, and the latest stats from 2019 show a spike in deaths. For example, Somalia saw 17.3% air pollution fatalities in 1990, while in 2019, this percentage rose to 17.29%.

Only the region of South Africa had significantly lowered the death rate since 1990 when it used to be 9.5%. However, today it is 6.41%.

The rest of the continent remains at high risk of air pollution-induced fatalities.

(Our World in Data)

 

23. Outdoor air pollution remains a significant risk factor in South Asia and North Africa.

China, Nepal, and India are the three most-affected Southeastern countries, with 13.74%, 13.43%, and 12.57% deaths in 2019 caused due to outdoor air pollution.

Other Asian countries like Pakistan (9.42%) and Mongolia (9.01%) have only seen a spike in death numbers from outdoor air pollution since 1990. Parts of the globe least affected by outdoor air pollution are Canada, Greenland, Australia, New Zealand, and the Scandinavian countries.

Finland had made the best progress and brought down the number of deaths from outdoor air pollution to 0.73% in 2019, a significant drop since 1990 when the percentage was 2.7%.

(Our World in Data)

 

24. Outdoor air pollution death rates are highest in low-middle-income countries.

Many countries worldwide have seen a spike in death numbers or simply stagnation.

Uzbekistan suffers from the most fatalities caused by outdoor air pollution annually. In 2019, the country lost 178.52 lives per 100,000, a number that has only been growing since 1990, when it was below a hundred.

Egypt is the second most-affected country, counting around 160 deaths per capita in 2019. In 1990, this number was somewhat higher at 189.4.

Iceland and Finland are the two countries that have the most effective outdoor air pollution laws, which have brought down deaths to about three per capita.

(Our World in Data)

 

25. The UK has seen a gradual decline in emissions of air pollutants since 1970.

A study from 2016 recorded lowered emission levels of various air pollutants like Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and ammonia. Emission levels were highest in 1970 when the values were in the hundreds.

As the years progressed, these values have dropped below the hundreds, which means emission levels have dropped, too. In 2016, the UK lowered sulfur dioxide emissions to 2.77, particulate matter to roughly 20, nitrogen oxides to about 30, volatile organic compounds to 34.17, and ammonia to below 90.

(Our World in Data)

 

26. A Kuznets curve shows air pollution levels in London have gradually declined over the past century.

Starting from the 1700s, London’s air pollution levels only got worse. SPM (suspended particulate matter) concentration reached a peak in 1891 and began declining from there.

From 1900 onwards, air pollution levels in London have significantly dropped. In 2016, the city recorded only a 16-value SPM concentration exposure. This value is 40 times lower compared to the peak in 1891.

(Our World in Data)

 

27. Delhi’s exposure to SPM concentrations reached a peak in 2009.

Delhi is one of India’s most populous cities, so it has struggled to reduce SPM concentrations. Because it is a big city, residents are frequently exposed to soot, smoke, and dust.

In 1997, SPM concentrations fell below the 365-value for the first time. Since then, the problem has only gotten worse. In 2009, the value grew to 492. The most recent records date back to 2010 when the figure was 481.

This data depicts the battle between metropolitan areas and abnormal outdoor air pollution levels.

(Our World in Data)

Household Air Pollution and Health Statistics

 

28. About 2.6 billion people cook using stoves that pollute the air or open fires.

Data by the World Health Organization shows that 2.6 billion people worldwide cook on open fires that pollute the household air. Alternatively, they use stoves fuelled by biomass, coal, or kerosene. Each option contributes to indoor air pollution and negatively impacts the household members’ health.

(WHO)

 

29. About 4 million people die prematurely due to household air pollution’s indirect and direct impact.

Inefficient cooking practices contribute to illness resulting in the premature death of millions of people every year. Such non-communicable diseases include ischaemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Moreover, nearly half the pneumonia deaths among children under 5 result from soot inhaled from indoor air pollution.

According to the latest WHO research, the exact number of premature deaths due to household pollution is 3.8 million. Here are the leading causes of such deaths:

  • Pneumonia – 27%
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 27%
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – 20%
  • Stroke – 18%
  • Lung cancer – 8%

(WHO)

 

30. Indoor air pollution puts women over 30 at high risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Lung cancer is also more common in women in their thirties. Evidence shows that indoor air pollutants also impact people of all ages.

For example, children 0-4 years old are susceptible to acute infections of the lower respiratory tract, whereas older kids are at moderate risk of developing asthma. Adults over 15 can get tuberculosis or develop cataracts (moderate evidence).

(Our World in Data)

 

Conclusion

Well, that’s it for our air pollution statistics!  This is a lot of info to take in. I think we all have a lot to process.

But the point of this article was to highlight the gravity of the air pollution problem. To give you some context on just how big an issue it is, and what an impact it has on our lives.

There’s so much to learn about air pollution, and we’re sure you’ll keep learning more the deeper you dig into the topic.

Although the statistics are distressing, it’s important to remember that everyone can help reduce pollution by making small changes in their everyday lives. It doesn’t take much effort to make a big difference in the air quality of your community. 

And even though you might be tempted to think, “Yeah, yeah—I get it. Pollution’s bad. Now what?” the truth is that there are a lot of things you can do to help reduce air pollution. For example:

  • Take public transport whenever possible.
  • Ride your bike or walk to work if you’re close enough.
  • If you have to drive, try carpooling with coworkers or friends who live nearby.
  • When you need to replace your car, consider an electric vehicle—they have zero emissions. (And they’re super cool!).

Thanks for reading!

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