A study published Friday in the journal Environmental Research Letters indicates that 2.1 million deaths worldwide can be linked to air pollution. Simply put, the deaths are connected to fine particulate matter lodged into human lungs, triggering a litany of health problems, including lung cancer and heart disease.
The study also found that 470,000 deaths are linked each year to human sources of ozone, including automobile and industrial exhaust, triggering respiratory disease.
Researchers said their new study had an advantage over previous research in that it did not rely simply on one climate model, but several, estimating concentrations of air pollution around the world.
Most of the estimated global deaths likely occur in East and South Asia, according to the research, which have larger populations and severe air pollution.
"Air pollution is probably one of the most important environmental risk factors for health," said researcher Jason West, assistant professor of environmental sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The authors noted that climate change could affect air quality in a number of ways. Moist or wet regions, for example, might see less ozone production, while drier areas might see more.