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Deaths from air pollution cost $225 billion, says World Bank

A Chinese man wears a protective face mask as he passes by the CCTV Headquarters on November 30, 2015, in Beijing, China.
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A Chinese man wears a protective face mask as he passes by the CCTV Headquarters on November 30, 2015, in Beijing, China.

Air pollution has become the "deadliest form of pollution" and is now the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths, according to the World Bank.

In 2013, these deaths cost the global economy around $225 billion in "lost labor," according to a joint study by the bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

In a news release on Thursday, the bank said that an estimated 5.5 million people died in 2013 as a result of diseases "associated with outdoor and household air pollution." This pollution had both hampered economic development and caused human suffering, the bank said.

"Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital and constrains economic growth," Laura Tuck, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank, said in the news release.

"We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policymakers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality," Tuck added.

The study found that premature deaths had hit working-age men and women in terms of lost labor income. In South Asia, "lost labor income losses" equated to 0.83 percent of gross domestic product.

The bank went on to state that if deaths across all age groups were analyzed "through the lens of 'welfare losses'" then the aggregate global cost of early deaths in 2013 was over $5 trillion.

"This report and the burden of disease associated with air pollution are an urgent call to action," Chris Murray, director of the IHME, said in the news release.

"Of all the different risk factors for premature deaths, this is one area, the air we breathe, over which individuals have little control," Murray added.

"Policymakers in health and environment agencies, as well as leaders in various industries, are facing growing demands – and expectations – to address this problem."