November 23, 2010 / 9:36 AM / 7 years ago

Air pollution exceeds safety limits in big Asian cities: report

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Air pollution in major cities in Asia exceeds the World Health Organisation's (WHO) air quality guidelines and toxic cocktails result in more than 530,000 premature deaths a year, according to a new report issued on Tuesday.

Issued by the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute, the study found that elderly people with cardiopulmonary and other chronic illnesses were especially vulnerable and they tended to die prematurely when their conditions were exacerbated by bad air.

"In general, those susceptible to air pollution are people who are older, who have cardiopulmonary disease, stroke, conditions often related to aging," the institute's vice president, Robert O'Keefe, said by telephone.

"In Asia, the elderly will become more susceptible to air pollution and become more frail. The more frail are the ones dying prematurely from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cardiovascular disease," he said.

The study took into account three main pollutants -- particulate matter of 10 micrometers and smaller, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Not a single city in Asia had all three pollutants within limits considered acceptable by the World Health Organisation.

Although sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide in Dhaka were within safety limits, particulates in the capital of Bangladesh were more than five times over WHO guidelines.

The same was true in Singapore, whose particulates exceeded WHO guidelines by 50 percent.

"The levels of air pollution across Asia routinely exceed WHO guidelines and that is evidenced in ... significant excess mortality from air pollution-related disease," O'Keefe said.

The very young are at risk too.

"There is exacerbation of asthma among children. There is also some evidence of low birth weight," he said.

Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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