Air Quality

In 2016 alone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 249 thousand premature deaths were attributable to outdoor air pollution and another 83 thousand premature deaths were attributable to the use of solid fuels for household energy (household air pollution) in the Americas. In addition, short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon are powerful climate forcers with potential negative consequences on global warming and its associated health impact. Everyone can be exposed to air pollution. However, exposure may vary significantly among different population groups and geographic areas. People living near busy roads or industrial sites, for example, often are exposed to higher levels of outdoor air pollution than others, while those who live in households that rely on solid fuels for energy often bear the brunt of exposure to household air pollution. In some instances, exposure differences among population groups may be linked with inequities in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Air pollution has gained recognition in and prominence on global agendas. In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Central references to air pollution in the Agenda are made under Targets 3.9 (to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination), 7.1 (to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy) and 11.6 (to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management). For more information see The UN Sustainable Development Agenda.

Key facts
  • Air pollution is the largest environmental risk for public health in the Americas.
  • Worldwide near 7 million premature deaths are attributable to air pollution in 2016. About 88% of these deaths occurs in low and middle-income countries.
  • + 150 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean live is cities with levels of air pollution exceeding WHO air quality guidelines.
  • Exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause a variety of adverse health outcomes. It increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.  Such effects affects largely the most vulnerable population, children, the elderly and women.
  • Household air pollution (HAP) is associated to the inefficient combustion of solid fuels and kerosene is the one of leading environmental risk factor for death and disability in the world.

For more information:

Fact sheet
PAHO Response
  • Support the improvement of the Performance of Environmental Public Health Programs by:
    • Support integrating health in air quality policies and plans;
    • Promote setting of air quality objectives based on WHO health guidelines and
    • Enhance capacity of health workforce.
  • Support progress measurement on Environmental Public Health in the Americas  through measurement, and assessment of SDG indicators 3.9.1, 7.1.2, 11.6.2
  • Support Building of an Environmentally Sustainable and Resilient Health Sector through estimation of the sector air pollution footprint and promotion of use of clean energy
  • Support Community Resilience to environmental determinants of health  with Negative Public Health Implications by implementing the initiative for elimination of polluting cooking fuels and Promoting cleaner air in urban areas