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We know air pollution is bad: bad for humans, wildlife, the environment. But the reality of air pollution’s harm is much worse than many may have assumed, growing steadily across the globe and hitting poorest cities the hardest.

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Data released in 2016 found that 4 of every 5 residents of cities with reliable measurements are confronted with amounts of particulate air pollution that surpass what the WHO recommends. According to the organization, 98 percent of urban areas in “low- and middle-income countries” with populations exceeding 100,000 fall short of the group’s air quality standards.

“Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health,” Maria Neira, director of WHO’s department of public health, environment, and social determinants of health, explained.

Now, a new report called State of Global Air brings more bad news: air pollution is so bad that it’s become the leading environmental cause of death, with 92 percent of the world’s population living in areas with unhealthy air.

In 2015, 4.2 million people died prematurely as a result of long-term exposure to polluted particles in the air, giving air pollution the infuriating ranking of the fifth highest cause of death among all healthy risks, including smoking, diet, and high blood pressure.

“We are seeing increasing air pollution problems worldwide and this new report and website details why that air pollution is a major contributor to early death,” explained Health Effects Institute (HEI) president Dan Greenbaum. “The trends we report show that we have seen progress in some parts of the world – but serious challenges remain.”

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The report revealed that together, China and India were responsible for over half of the 4.2 million global deaths caused by air pollution in 2015. It also noted that the countries’ increasing exposure and growing and aging population have caused them to come in on top for the highest air pollution health issues in the world.

“The Global Burden of Disease leads a growing worldwide consensus – among the WHO, World Bank, International Energy Agency and others – that air pollution poses major global public health challenges,” HEI vice president of HEI and Clean Air Asia chair Bob O’Keefe explained.  “Nowhere is that risk more evident than in the rapidly growing economies of Asia.”

The report also exposed that South and Southeast Asia, China and Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest concentrations of combustion-related particles in the air.

However, the research did find some improvements to report: the U.S. Clean Air Act and actions taken by the European Commission have shown significant progress in lowering the amount of people exposed to polluted air particles since 1990. And America’s average annual population exposures to find particulate matter has seen a decrease of an estimated 27 percent.

Unfortunately, roughly 88,000 Americans and 258,000 Europeans still face increased risks of premature death as a result of air pollution.

So what’s causing such bad news? As you likely already now, it’s really our own actions, like household solid fuel use, coal-burning power plants, transportation, and open burning of agricultural and other wastes.

So What can You Do?

1. Use Public Transportation: Use your vehicle a lot less often. Carpool and rideshare when you have the ability to do so and consider using public transportation instead of driving; that way, you aren’t contributing to all of the issues that the air is already dealing with before adding your car to the mix.

2. Drive Smart: If you are driving on a regular basis, make sure that you are driving smart instead of wasting gas. Drive within the speed limit, make sure that there aren’t a lot of things in your car that will weigh it down, and do all that you can to conserve the amount of gas that you will be using on a regular basis.

3. Do Regular Car Check Up: Its important for you to go for regular check up of your car to make sure it does not consume extra fuel. This will not only save you money but your car will also last longer.

4. Keep Car Tires Properly Inflated: Car consume more fuel when tires are not properly inflated and aligned. Keeping them properly inflated will lessen your impact on the environment.

5. Buy Energy Efficient Vehicles: Buy vehicles and other items that are helpful to the environment. There are so many options that you have now that are either efficient on gas or they are hybrids, so you don’t have to worry about them putting additional gas and pollution into the atmosphere. If you’re looking for a new car, go energy efficient if you can.

6. Consider “going green”: There are so many options for going green out there and a lot of them come with tax breaks that can make it even easier for you to do so. Look into your local, state, and even federal initiatives in order to see if they have something that can help you change your tune.

7. Plant a Garden: Plant a garden that is going to give the air the nutrients that it needs to be cleaner. There are so many plants out there that will eat up the junk in the atmosphere. Do your research and see what one(s) you can grow easily and that will help the world around you.

8. Use Low-VOC or Water-based Paints: Use paints that are based with water and not oil. The less oil products that you are using, the better off that you’re going to be because that means less oil is being produced overall.

9. Turn Off Lights When not in Use: Don’t keep the lights or other electric devices on. The more traditional power that you are using, the more energy you’re wasting and the more that you’re polluting the air.

Read all 41 ways you can help over at Conserve Energy Future

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