Air pollution and human health


Luke Conibear


Air pollution pathway

Sources, emissions, transport, and transformation

Guarnieri & Balmes (2014)

The energy ladder

Gordon et al. (2014)

Solid fuel use

Clean Cooking Alliance (2020)

One human pictogram represents one billion people. Idea inspired by Hans Rosling (2010) and Kirk R Smith (2012).

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5)

Guarnieri & Balmes (2014)

Ambient PM2.5 concentrations

Household PM2.5 concentrations

Ambient ozone (O3)

American Lung Association (2019)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Nitrogen oxides (NOX)

Ambient O3 concentrations

Health Effects Institute (2019)

Causal inference from observation




Climate change

(Measurements, satellite observations, multiple, different locations).

Anthropogenic emissions

(Models, ruling out alternatives).

Atmospheric physics and chemistry

(Greenhouse effect, radiation/cloud interactions, etc.).

Change in lung cancer incidence and prevalence


Genetic and DNA damage / mutation / expression / methylation

How does air pollution exposure cause disease?


Health impact (Hospital records).


Air pollution

(Epidemiology - statistical).


Biologically plausible


Thurston et al. (2017)

Mechanisms of disease from particle exposure

Mechanisms overlap, interfere with other risks (e.g. diet).
Long-term (chronic) effects > short-term (acute) effects.

Langrish et al., (2012)

Guarnieri & Balmes (2014)

How does risk change with exposure?

GBD 2017 Risk Factor Collaborators. (2018)

Ischaemic heart disease (IHD), ischaemic and hemorrhagic stroke (STR), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lower respiratory infections (LRI), lung cancer (LC), and type II diabetes (DIAB).

Disease burden from ambient PM2.5 exposure

Disease burden from household PM2.5 exposure

Disease burden from ambient O3 exposure

The leading diseases causes from exposure

Air pollution exposure is a leading "risk factor"

The leading sources

Lelieveld et al., (2015)

How might the disease burden change in the future?

Smith & Ezzati (2005)

Household PM2.5 exposure

Lelieveld et al., (2015)

Additional premature deaths per area of 100 km x 100 km in 2050

Ambient PM2.5 exposure


American Lung Association (2019)

Bonjour, S., et al. (2013). Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(7, July), 784790.

Clean Cooking Alliance (2020)

GBD 2017 Risk Factor Collaborators. (2018). The Lancet, 392, 19231994.

Gordon, S. B., et al. (2014). Respiratory risks from household air pollution in low and middle income countries. The Lancet, 2(10), 823860.

Guarnieri, M., & Balmes, J. R. (2014). Outdoor air pollution and asthma. The Lancet, 383(9928), 15811592.

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) - "Indoor Air Pollution". Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) - "Outdoor Air Pollution". Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

Health Effects Institute. 2019. State of Global Air 2019. Data source: Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. IHME, 2018.

Icons made by Freepik from Flaticon, licensed by CC 3.0 BY.

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (2019). GBD Compare Data Visualization.

Langrish, J. P., et al. (2012). Cardiovascular effects of particulate air pollution exposure: Time course and underlying mechanisms. Journal of Internal Medicine, 272(3), 224239.

Lelieveld, J., et al., (2015) The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale. Nature 525, 367371.

Rosling, H. The magic washing machine. TED (2010).

Smith, K. R. Global Burden of Disease due to Household Air Pollution from Cooking Fuel. in NIH/Fogarty Training Workshop on Household Air Pollution (2012).

Smith, K. R., & Ezzati, M. (2005). HOW ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH RISKS CHANGE WITH DEVELOPMENT: The Epidemiologic and Environmental Risk Transitions Revisited. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 30(1), 291333.

Thurston, G. D., et al., (2017). A joint ERS/ATS policy statement: what constitutes an adverse health effect of air pollution? An analytical framework. European Respiratory Journal, 49(1), 1600419.

The World Bank, (2020). GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2011 international $) through Gapminder (2020)