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Less Than 1 Percent of People Globally Breathing Safe Levels of Pollution, Study Finds

Only one in every 100,000 people on Earth are breathing safe levels of fine particulate pollution, according to a new study.

For the research, scientists gathered data on fine particulate matter from more than 5,000 on-the-ground monitoring stations, along with data on weather and geography, using machine learning to map out airborne particulate levels. The study found that on 99.82 percent of land across the six habitable continents, particulates exceed levels deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

Tracking changes in air quality across time, scientists found that particulate pollution has fallen in Europe and North America over the past two decades, but risen in sub-Sharan Africa, India, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The findings were published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

Fine particulate pollution comes from cars and trucks, power plants, factories, wildfires, and cook stoves. It can aggravate asthma and heart disease and increase the risk of lung cancer and heart attack. Scientists say that particulates are a leading risk factor for premature deaths globally.

The new study “provides a deep understanding of the current state of outdoor air pollution,” Yuming Guo, who researches environmental health at Monash University in Australia, said in a statement. “With this information, policymakers, public health officials, and researchers can better assess the short-term and long-term health effects of air pollution and develop air pollution mitigation strategies.”

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