Skip to content ↓
Press Room

When #EveryBreathHarms, Governments Must Take Action on Air Pollution

Statement from Vital Strategies President and Chief Executive Officer, José Luis Castro, on World Environment Day:

Air pollution is a global public health emergency: 90% of the people in the world breathe unhealthy air. Each breath can bring harmful pollutants into the bloodstream lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and impaired brain development in children.

This year’s World Environment Day calls on governments globally to #BeatAirPollution. Good air quality is a human right, but billions of people are living with toxic air because of government inaction. In many developing economies, air pollution has been considered a cost of economic progress. It doesn’t have to be; On average, air pollution has decreased in Europe and the Americas over the past 15 years, and the same results can be achieved everywhere, if governments have the will and the resources.

No one should have to live in a place where #EveryBreathHarms. To mark World Environment Day, we issue an urgent call for leaders around the world to take action now to address air pollution and to implement the policies proven to drive progress.

Air quality is not a problem that will be solved by changing individual behavior or market forces. It requires regulation and legislation. Governments at the national, regional and city level need to identify the sources of air pollution in their areas–from household fuels to power plants–and use proven strategies to address them.

Americans also have a particular cause for concern. While the U.S. has made great progress historically in improving air quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s recent plan to recalculate the way deaths from air pollution are counted, in order to get thousands of pollution deaths off the books, is dangerous and will put more Americans at risk. Every country needs to use data transparently to understand the sources of deadly air pollution and the impact of its policies to address it. We hope that EPA scientists, like those in countries around the world, have the courage to speak up and resist efforts to manipulate the numbers.

Regulation works: Thanks to the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments in the U.S., an estimated 200,000 lives will be saved, two million asthma exacerbations averted and 20 million school and work days saved, as of 2020. Every person, everywhere, has the right to be protected from toxic air by a strong public health system. And only governments have the power to take the action needed.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.