Len Barrie, director of WMO research, said European restrictions that followed concern about acid rain in the 1980s have cut concentrations of sulphur dioxide “by a factor of 20”. But, he added, “in other areas where economic growth has leapt forward, such as Asia — China, India — the opposite is true.” Pollution in China appeared to be reaching its peak, however, Barrie noted, saying: “There’s a real awakening in China on the economic benefits of reducing air pollution.”
Fine particles or microscopic dust from coal or wood fires and unfiltered diesel engines are considered one of the most lethal forms of air pollution. Such pollution stems from industry, transport, household heating, cooking and ageing coal or oil-fired power stations. In 2005, the World Health Organisation estimated that death rates in cities with higher particle pollution were 15 to 20% above those found in cleaner cities. About two million people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution, the agency estimated.
Noting that “particulate matter is of great concern” in urban areas, Liisa Jalkanen, atmospheric environment research chief at the WMO, said such pollution exceeds all limits in cities including Shanghai, Beijing, New Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi, Dhaka and Kathmandu. In South America, the capital cities of Lima, Santiago and Bogotá were highly polluted, Jalkanen said, while “the worst city in Africa is Cairo”.
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