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Millions of deaths due to air pollution

More must be done to cut air pollution, leading health officials warned after a new report suggested pollution claimed the lives of millions of people every year.

Around the globe seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution, according to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which said air pollution was "the world's largest single environmental health risk".

The WHO report suggests a link between air pollution and heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer. Many of the deaths in 2012 occurred in low and middle-income countries in south-east Asia and the western Pacific region, where about 3.3 million died as a result of indoor air pollution , while 2.6 million deaths were related to outdoor air pollution, WHO said.

The body said reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.

"Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents non-communicable diseases, and reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly," said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO's assistant director-general for family, woman and children's health. "Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves."

Dr Maria Neira, director of WHO's department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, added: "Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need to clean up the air we all breathe."

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