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Indicator details

License Type
CC BY-4.0
Indicator Name
PM2.5 air pollution, mean annual exposure (micrograms per cubic meter)
Long definition
Population-weighted exposure to ambient PM2.5 pollution is defined as the average level of exposure of a nation's population to concentrations of suspended particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter, which are capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory tract and causing severe health damage. Exposure is calculated by weighting mean annual concentrations of PM2.5 by population in both urban and rural areas.
Brauer, M. et al. 2017, for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017.
Environment: Emissions & pollution
Aggregation method
Weighted Average
Statistical concept and methodology
A. van Donkelaar, R.V. Martin, M. Brauer, N.C. Hsu, R.A. Kahn, R.C. Levy, A. Lyapustin, A.M. Sayer, D.M. Winker, "Global Estimates of Fine Particulate Matter using a Combined Geophysical-Statistical Method with Information from Satellites, Models, and Monitors," Environ. Sci. Technol 50, no. 7 (2016): 3762–3772; GBD 2017 Risk Factors Collaborators, "Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks for 194 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017," Lancet 392 (2018): 1923-1994; Shaddick G, Thomas M, Amini H, Broday DM, Cohen A, Frostad J, Green A, Gumy S, Liu Y, Martin RV, Prüss-Üstün A, Simpson D, van Donkelaar A, Brauer M. Data integration for the assessment of population exposure to ambient air pollution for global burden of disease assessment. Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Jun 29. Data provided by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Seattle. Data on exposure to ambient air pollution are derived from estimates of annual concentrations of very fine particulates produced by the Global Burden of Disease study, an international scientific effort led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Estimates of annual concentrations are generated by combining data from atmospheric chemistry transport models, satellite observations of aerosols in the atmosphere, and ground-level monitoring of particulates. Exposure to concentrations of PM2.5 in both urban and rural areas is weighted by population and is aggregated at the national level.
Development relevance
Air pollution places a major burden on world health. In many places, including cities but also in rural areas, exposure to air pollution is the main environmental threat to health, responsible for 6.5 million deaths per year, about one every 5 seconds. Around 40 percent of the world’s people rely on household burning of wood, charcoal, dung, crop waste, or coal to meet basic energy needs. Cooking and heating with solid fuels create harmful smoke and particles that fill homes and the surrounding environment. Household air pollution from cooking and heating with solid fuels is responsible for 2.9 million deaths a year. Long-term exposure to high levels of fine particles in the air contributes to a range of health effects, including respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and heart disease, resulting in 4.2 million deaths annually. Not only does exposure to air pollution affect the health of the world’s people, it also carries huge economic costs and represents a drag on development, particularly for low and middle income countries and vulnerable segments of the population such as children and the elderly.
Limitations and exceptions
Pollutant concentrations are sensitive to local conditions, and even monitoring sites in the same city may register different levels. Direct monitoring of PM2.5 is still rare in most parts of the world, and measurement protocols and standards are not the same for all countries. These data should be considered only a general indication of air quality, intended to inform cross-country comparisons of the health risks due to particulate matter pollution. The guideline set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for PM2.5 is that annual mean concentrations should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic meter, representing the lower range over which adverse health effects have been observed. The WHO has also recommended guideline values for emissions of PM2.5 from burning fuels in households.
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