Human health risks in megacities due to air pollution

B. R. Gurjar, A. Jain, A. Sharma, A. Agarwal, P. Gupta, A. S. Nagpure, J. Lelieveld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Scopus citations


This study evaluates the health risks in megacities in terms of mortality and morbidity due to air pollution. A new spreadsheet model, Risk of Mortality/Morbidity due to Air Pollution (Ri-MAP), is used to estimate the excess numbers of deaths and illnesses. By adopting the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline concentrations for the air pollutants SO2, NO2 and total suspended particles (TSP), concentration-response relationships and a population attributable-risk proportion concept are employed. Results suggest that some megacities like Los Angeles, New York, Osaka Kobe, Sao Paulo and Tokyo have very low excess cases in total mortality from these pollutants. In contrast, the approximate numbers of cases is highest in Karachi (15,000/yr) characterized by a very high concentration of total TSP (~670μgm-3). Dhaka (7000/yr), Beijing (5500/yr), Karachi (5200/yr), Cairo (5000/yr) and Delhi (3500/yr) rank highest with cardiovascular mortality. The morbidity (hospital admissions) due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) follows the tendency of cardiovascular mortality. Dhaka and Karachi lead the rankings, having about 2100/yr excess cases, while Osaka-Kobe (~20/yr) and Sao Paulo (~50/yr) are at the low end of all megacities considered. Since air pollution is increasing in many megacities, and our database of measured pollutants is limited to the period up to 2000 and does not include all relevant components (e.g. O3), these numbers should be interpreted as lower limits. South Asian megacities most urgently need improvement of air quality to prevent excess mortality and morbidity due to exceptionally high levels of air pollution. The risk estimates obtained from Ri-MAP present a realistic baseline evaluation for the consequences of ambient air pollution in comparison to simple air quality indices, and can be expanded and improved in parallel with the development of air pollution monitoring networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4606-4613
Number of pages8
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number36
StatePublished - Nov 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Max Planck Society, Munich, and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany, have supported this study through the Max Planck Partner Group for Megacities and Global Change established at Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, India. We thank the anonymous reviewers whose constructive suggestions have helped improve the manuscript. Support received from The Cyprus Institute during revision of the manuscript is gratefully acknowledged (ERC grant for the C8 project).


  • Cardiovascular
  • Criteria pollutants
  • Hospital admissions
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Relative risk
  • Respiratory


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