Air Pollution: A Pandemic in Slow Motion


Courtesy of National Geographic

Air pollution kills 7 million people each year and is often overlooked as a cause of death.

Tiana Salisbury, Photojournalist

Air pollution is continuing to get worse as time goes on. Many sources cause air pollution, but it is mostly caused by the burning of fossil fuels in order to power vehicles and facilities. As the world’s population continues to rise, more energy is used, which results in more air pollution. This is especially true in populated areas such as India. Air pollution is harming humans’ health and is, as Jyoti Pande Lavakare describes it, “a pandemic in slow motion.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that seven million people die from air pollution each year. Their studies show that nine out of ten people breathe air that exceeds their air quality guidelines, which means that a majority of the world’s population is affected by air pollution. Piper Guyton (10) says that she was “surprised that so many people are breathing unhealthy air.” The WHO also states that air pollution leads to several severe health conditions including pneumonia, bronchitis, heart disease, and lung cancer. 

On April 17, 2021, John Hopkins University officially announced that three million people had died from COVID-19 worldwide. Although COVID-19 has killed less than half as many people as the WHO predicts to be killed from air pollution each year, deaths from COVID-19 are much more widely recognized today. Air pollution is usually not recognized as a significant factor that causes deaths since its effects on health are not immediately obvious, making them easily overlooked. In fact, air pollution is not listed as the cause of death on death certificates. However, air pollution will continue to harm humans whether we notice it or not. The US National Library of Medicine states that people who live in areas where air pollution is high are more vulnerable to the virus. Air pollution weakens people’s immune systems and lungs, so people with COVID-19 will be more susceptible to have worse symptoms if they live in heavily polluted areas.

People can do many things to reduce air pollution in the areas where they live and in places around the world. Simple individual actions such as walking instead of driving, turning off lights when not in a room, and recycling can help reduce air pollution. Even though people may think that what they do will not have any significant effect on reducing pollution, their efforts to do so can inspire others to take the same actions, which can lead to a safer, cleaner, and less polluted world.