Breathing. It is something many of us take for granted; we do it without even thinking. For others, it may be one of life’s biggest struggles. Just ask someone who has COPD or asthma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18 million adults and nearly 9 million children suffer with asthma in the United States. More than likely you know someone who has asthma. (In my family, that would include my mother, all of my brothers, and me.)

It is no surprise then that the World Health Organization released a report showing that, based on 2010 figures, the effects of air pollution are killing more people than AIDS and malaria combined.

My daughter and her family live in New York. It bothers me a lot knowing they use the subway for transportation. I don’t know if you have ever experienced a New York subway, but for me as soon as I walk down the stairs onto the platform I feel like my lungs are collapsing and are on fire. It feels like rubber particulates are attacking my lungs. I have begged my daughter not to bring my 18 month-old granddaughter to the subway until she is at least 5 years old.

Now, a new study using 2012 data reveals that things are worse than even earlier believed.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” says Dr. Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organization’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Few risks have greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

The WHO found that, worldwide, nearly 4 million deaths in 2012 from both urban and rural sources were linked to outdoor air pollution. Additionally, indoor pollution caused 4.3 million deaths mostly due to cooking on inefficient coal and biomass stoves. The tragedy in this is that it would probably take very little to save these 7 million lives.

“It is not really a question of money, since health costs and lost productivity caused by air pollution are higher in the long-term …” reports Michael Graham Richard of

The fix comes in replacing small, inefficient stoves in poorer countries with better stoves and/or electric cooking. Many countries, like China, have much to do to clean up their air pollution. China’s unfiltered and unregulated coal-fired plants run amok in their heavily populated cities and across their countryside. Reports of thick black smoke and smog are an everyday occurrence in most of China’s cities and towns.

However, we in the United States should not be the first to cast aspersions at the Chinese or any other country. We also use coal-fired power and we are the very last to use pedestrian- or bicycle-powered transportation compared to the Chinese and many other countries.

We can all do more so that our children and grandchildren have clean air, healthy lungs and a clean Earth to thrive on.

Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at