Air pollution has been recognised as a major environmental risk to health. According to the World Health Organisation, by reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. The lower the levels of air pollution, the better your cerebrovascular, cardiovascular and respiratory health will be.


  • In 2014, 92% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met.
  • Outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 3 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012.
  • In 2012, it’s estimated that 72% of outdoor air pollution-related premature deaths were due to ischaemic heart disease and strokes.
  • Indoor smoke is also a serious health risk for some 3 billion people who cook and heat their homes with biomass fuels and coal. 4.3 million premature deaths were attributable to household air pollution in 2012. Almost all of that burden was in low-middle-income countries such as South Africa.

What is air pollution?

There are two types of air pollution; indoor pollution caused by cooking fumes from using fireplaces or wooden stoves, and outdoor air pollution caused by emissions from industries and road transport. Air pollution consists of various chemicals, including particulate matter, invisible gases such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, and semi-volatile liquids, such as methane and benzene. Particulate matter (PM), also known as particle pollution, consists of tiny particles and liquid droplets, suspended in the air. Once inhaled, these particles, along with other harmful compounds can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.

How does air pollution affect health?

Particulate matter is a significant source of air pollution that is particularly damaging to the heart and lungs. The size of these particles matters, where exposure to “fine particles” which are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller, can get deep into the lungs as well as the cardiovascular system, causing inflammation. Particulate matter is also thought to contribute to CVD by promoting atherosclerosis, leading to the narrowing of blood vessels, as well as causing cardiovascular inflammation, and increasing blood clots. The effects of which include hypertension, heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes.

Tips to keep air cleaner

The government, industry and public need to work together on a global scale to reduce air pollution and improve air quality. Most sources of outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demand action by cities, as well as national and international policymakers in sectors like transport, energy waste management, buildings and agriculture. Nonetheless, here are some things individuals can do to help keep the air cleaner, particularly in their homes:

  • Conserve electricity where you can. Lower the thermostat of your water geyser and switch it off during the day. Turn off lights, computers, and electric appliances when not in use.
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.
  • Limit driving by reducing the number of trips you take in your car by carpooling, use public transportation, bike or walk when possible.
  • Combine errands to reduce “cold starts” of your car and avoid extended idling.
  • Keep your car, boat and other engines properly tuned and maintained, and avoid engines that smoke. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on routine maintenance, such as changing the oil and filters, and checking tire pressure and wheel alignment.
  • Use electric or hand-powered lawn care equipment.
  • Run dishwashers and washing machines only when full and choose environmentally friendly cleaners.
  • Reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use.
  • Avoid burning leaves, trash and other materials. Instead, compost leaves and garden waste.
  • Recycle paper, glass and plastic waste.