A report by the World Health Organization released in March 2014, shows that the health impacts might even be more than thought before, revealing that around seven million people died as a result of exposure to air pollution in 2012.

It confirms that air pollution is world’s largest environmental health risk, with one in eight of all global deaths in 2012 being a result of air pollution exposure. Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

Children are particularly at risk due to the immaturity of their respiratory organ systems. Apart from air pollution’s known influence in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the new data also found a stronger link between air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases.

The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology.

Automobiles are a primary source of air pollution in the urban space of both developing and developed countries. Road vehicles produce carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides that threaten the atmosphere and are recognized as contributing to global warming. However, good emission monitoring mechanisms coupled with clean vehicle and fuel technologies can significantly reduce harmful exhaust from vehicles.

A related report by the WHO showed that air pollution is increasing in many world cities, and South Asia is among the worst affected. Despite this regional trend, ambient air quality in Colombo has not deteriorated. The 2014 Yale University Environmental Protection Index, which looks at environmental health and ecosystem vitality, ranked Sri Lanka 69th – significantly higher than its neighbours. Despite the increasing number of vehicles in Colombo, the annual emissions tests have retained the ambient air quality of the city.