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  1. ITV Report

WHO: Air pollution is one of the world's 'biggest public health issues'

Air pollution in cities has reached toxic levels and could cost governments 'enormous' amounts, according to the World Health Organisation.

Air pollution limits for the whole of 2016 have already been breached in London. Credit: Stefan Rousseau / PA Archive/PA Images

The warning comes ahead of a new report detailing the amount of deaths caused by poor air quality to be released next month.

Dr Maria Neira, the WHO's head of public health, said the world is confronting one of the "biggest public health issues" it has faced.

Exposure to air pollution has now been linked to cardiovascular disease, she said, as well a catalogue of other illnesses.

It comes after figures released last year by the WHO suggested that seven million, or one in eight, premature deaths were linked to air pollution. Dr Neira called on governments to take responsibility for tackling the deadly threat

It is an enormous cost not only in terms of mortality, but in terms of treating diseases and the costs of hospitalisation - as most of these diseases are chronic.

It will also lead to less working days and a lower quality of life.

There is also a role to be played on an individual level, like choosing not to take the car.

I think it is a societal decision, but it is important that, as well as the Government stepping in, citizens are also informed.

– WHO's head of public health, Dr Maria Neira

The WHO's conclusions are based on data collected on 2,000 world cities, showing many populations are exposed to levels of air pollution exceeding health standards.

Figures recently revealed that air pollution limits for the whole of 2016 had already been breached in London.