Air pollution

Invisible killer

Air pollution is an invisible killer that lurks all around us, preying on the young and old. Learn how it slips unnoticed past our body's defenses causing deaths from heart attack, strokes, lung disease and cancer.

Brain and air pollution

34% of all stroke deaths are attributable to air pollution. Air pollution causes 2.2 million deaths from stroke every year.

Heart and air pollution

27% of all heart disease deaths are attributable to air pollution. Air pollution causes 2 million deaths due to heart disease every year.

Lungs and air pollution

37% of all lung cancer deaths are attributable to air pollution. Air pollution causes 1.7 million deaths due to lung disease and cancer every year.

Air pollution - a leading cause of NCD deaths

Most air pollution-related deaths are from non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In terms of global disease burden, air pollution is the cause of over one-third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease, and one-quarter of deaths from ischaemic heart disease.

Air pollution and health

From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate. The combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause about 6.5 million premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guideline limits, with low-and middle income countries suffering from the highest exposures, both indoors and outdoors.

WHO's Agenda on Air Pollution and Health

WHO's work on air pollution is guided by a 2015 World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution calling for an enhanced global response to the adverse health effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution. In 2016, Member States approved a draft "road map" focusing on 4 priority areas for action:

1) Expanding the knowledge base about impacts of air pollution on health;

2) Monitoring and reporting on health trends and progress towards the air pollution-related targets of the SDGs;

3) Leveraging the health sector to raise awareness of health benefits from air pollution reduction measures; and

4) Enhancing the health sector’s capacity to work with other sectors and at all levels to help address the adverse health effects of air pollution through training, guidelines and national action plans.

WHO/L. Cipriani

fact buffet

3 milliondeaths every year as a result of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution

Mortality from ambient air pollution - maps

4.3 million deaths every year as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels

Mortality from household air pollution - maps

92%of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits

Interactive global ambient air pollution map


BreatheLife is a joint campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to mobilize cities and individuals to protect our health and planet from the effects of air pollution.

Global Platform on Air Quality and Health

Severe air pollution in Anyang, China
V.T. Polywoda/Fickr

The Global Platform on Air Quality and Health is a WHO-led initiative, in collaboration with nearly 50 other international/regional agencies and research institutions.

BreatheLife Infographics

BreatheLife Infographics in the official UN languages



Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health (PHE) World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27

Air Pollution in WHO regions