Air pollution in cities around the globe has reached such toxic levels that the world is confronting one of the “biggest public health issues” it has faced, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
The warning came ahead of a new report detailing the amount of deaths caused by poor air quality to be released next month, according to an article by the UK Press Association.
Dr Maria Neira, the WHO’s head of public health, told the news agency the crisis would cost governments “enormous” amounts globally.
Exposure to air pollution has now been linked to cardiovascular disease, she said, as well a catalogue of other illnesses.
It comes after figures released last year by the WHO suggested that seven million, or one in eight, premature deaths were linked to air pollution, the report said.
She called on governments to take responsibility for tackling the deadly threat by ensuring they become more eco-friendly.
“This is one of the biggest public health issues we have ever confronted,” she told the Press Association.
“It is an enormous cost not only in terms of mortality, but in terms of treating diseases and the costs of hospitalisation – as most of these diseases are chronic.
“It will also lead to less working days and a lower quality of life.”
Her conclusions are based on data which has been collected on 2,000 world cities, showing many populations are exposed to levels of air pollution exceeding the WHO standards.
Figures recently revealed that air pollution limits for the whole of 2016 had already been breached in London.
Dr Neira added that improved public transport systems, a greater number of energy-efficient houses and a commitment to renewable energy could mitigate the crippling effects of poor air quality.
“There is also a role to be played on an individual level, like choosing not to take the car,” she added.
“I think it is a societal decision, but it is important that, as well as the Government stepping in, citizens are also informed.”