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Health Officials Say Smog Causes 3 Million Premature Deaths Each Year

A man wears a mask to protect himself from air pollution in Beijing on December 8, 2015.Greg Baker—AFP/Getty Images

Air pollution is a rapidly growing problem that is reaching dangerous levels, particularly for people who live in urban areas around the world, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO said on Thursday that global air pollution levels jumped by 8% between 2008 and 2013. According to the group, rising levels of air pollution are resulting in more than three million premature deaths around the world each year.

“Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health,” Maria Neira, director of public health at the Geneva-based WHO, said in a statement.

The group’s latest research into worsening air conditions revealed that more than 80% of people living in cities that monitor air pollution are breathing air that does not meet WHO’s air quality guidelines. Worsening smog is especially an issue in poorer countries, as the group notes that 98% of cities in low- and middle-income countries have air pollution that does not meet WHO’s standards, compared to 56% in cities in high-income countries. Some of the highest levels of urban air pollution were found in cities in poorer countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asian regions, according to WHO.

The group’s air quality database includes 3,000 cities in 103 countries—a total WHO said has nearly doubled over the past two years, with more and more cities monitoring air quality as local health officials take note of the adverse health affects caused by air pollution. Declining air quality can be linked to higher risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and various respiratory diseases, according to WHO.