At least 600,000 Indians died from the effects of air pollution in 2012, a new study by the World Health Organisation has revealed. Exposure to fine particulate matter of the size width of 2.5 microns or less, commonly referred to as PM2.5, may have aggravated cardiovascular and lung disease leading to these deaths. Even this estimate, the authors of the study say, are conservative.

India ranks second in the most number of air pollution deaths after China and eighth in the number of deaths per 100,000 people due to ambient air pollution.

ALRI: acute lower respiratory disease; COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; IHD: ischaemic heart disease
ALRI: acute lower respiratory disease; COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; IHD: ischaemic heart disease

The WHO released on Monday confirmed that 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air pollution levels exceeded acceptable limits. At least 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Its also finds that in 2012, 11% of all global deaths or 6.5 million deaths were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together. Of these, 90% occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with the heaviest burden in south-east Asia and the western Pacific.

But there is also a possible link between dirty air and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom have found millions of magnetite particles in 37 human brain tissue samples collected from pollution hot spots around the world.

These magnetite particles examined, the researchers say, have the same appearance they have as in the atmosphere and so have not been dissolved or broken down in anyway. Magnetite is an iron oxide associated with neurodegenerative diseases

The study made public earlier in September does not claim a definite link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s but offers evidence that magnetite from air pollution, particularly traffic pollution, can get into the brain, and warrants more study.

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There air more indications of the serious impacts of air pollution on mental health. Research published in June in BMJ Open has linked air pollution to increased mental illness in children. The study that examined pollution exposure of more than 500,000 children under the age of 18 in Sweden showed that relatively small increases in air pollution were associated with a significant rise in in psychiatric problems.

The WHO has more alarming statistics on the impact of air pollution, particularly in India – 1.4 million people in India die pre-mature deaths due to air pollution. This translates to one air pollution death every 23 seconds.

These statistics have inspired a rather dismal awareness campaign video by Hawa Badlo, a people's movement that operates out of Gurgaon, projecting how a family might live in a toxic 2030 of we don't act to clean up out air now.

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