Our Guest Author today shares some amazing and sickening facts with us about air pollution.
It’s an invisible killer. You can’t see the air quality around you, and there’s no escaping it. Also, peoples attitudes may be slightly different to air pollution. It’s not as black and white as say, a mouldy piece of bread or water with an unusual brown colour and foul odour. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a developed nation, you can choose to be selective and get yourself a new loaf of bread and some bottled water from the supermarket. Problem solved!
A pretty simple solution for all of us. But what about air quality? Well, I’m afraid it’s not as easy to buy bottled air. It’s something that affects us all, some places far worse than others.
Anthropogenic activities are contaminating our air, causing 8 million premature deaths every year. Shockingly, 90% of them come from developing countries. That’s more than malaria and HIV/Aids combined.
All of the following emissions can have a profound impact on human health. So they will contribute to exacerbating pre-existing lung and heart conditions, respiratory conditions like asthma with increased coughing and difficulty breathing.
Figure A- the 4 key organs that air pollution affects the most, The Guardian
- Particulate matter – consists of microscopic liquid and solid droplets that can absorb many toxic compounds such as metals. They’re typically classed as two types: PM5and PM10. The former is especially dangerous as it’s less than or equal to 2.5 microns in size, which can deposit deep into our lungs. Some incredibly fine particles can even penetrate our bloodstream causing blocked arteries and affect brain functionality
- Ground-level ozone (GLO) – cardiovascular problems with increased probability of strokes, heart disease and heart attacks. Plus, from a pulmonary standpoint: wheezing, coughing and inflammation
- Sulfur dioxide– the global concentrations have plummeted in recent decades due to cleaner burning fuels with natural gas. Sulfur dioxide is associated with the burning of coal primarily, so wherever there’s coal-fired power stations, there will be SO2in the ambient air
- Nitric oxides (NOx)– its main source is traffic-related air pollution, which will form when nitrogen and oxygen react in the air through combustion. If you have highly congested cities, then NOx levels will also be very high
The vast majority of air pollution comes from human activities – industrial, traffic-related and agriculture. So natural processes, such as volcanic eruptions, have minimal effects. And unfortunately, we’ve created this negative feedback loop. So, by burning fossil fuels we pump greenhouse gases (GHG’s) into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Higher temperatures for air pollutants intensify climate change, and it’s the higher temperatures that can produce more air pollution.
An example would be climate change creating more extreme weather events, such as increased rainfall. This will create damp conditions for higher mould growth, and we can inhale the spores. Plus, some areas have longer pollen seasons that mean higher concentrations of allergens in the air. There are countless people in the world who suffer from hay fever, exacerbation of pre-existing pulmonary diseases and skin conditions like psoriasis.
We also have a likelihood of the following occurrences:
Smog – formed by sulfur dioxide (sulfurous smog) and/or GLO (photochemical smog). The most obvious effect is reduced visibility in cities, making it more difficult to drive and even dangerous. But unsurprisingly, it’ll irritate the eyes and cause significant respiratory illness. It’ll be particularly bad if you already have asthma, increasing the chance of wheezing and tightness in the chest. This type of pollution has links to actually being the cause of asthmatic conditions in children and not just an exacerbation of current conditions.
Toxic pollutants – anything from benzene, dioxins, lead and mercury. All of which are seriously bad for the environment but also to human health. Waste incineration without gas recovery is a major contributor, as well as byproducts in manufacturing processes like bleaching and herbicide production. They can have adverse effects of foetal development, reproduction, and a compound like benzene is a known human carcinogen.
The worst air pollution in the world
Contaminated air is most certainly a global challenge, but 90% of all air pollution-related deaths come from developing nations. Why? Because of a lack of legislation and a standardization of fuel. 3 billion people still use coal-fired stoves in their homes, which massively deteriorates in-door air quality. And we’re talking about raw coal here, which is a very dirty fuel source.
But it’s the people’s only option. Raw coal is still incredibly cheap in these places, and how else are they going to keep warm? How else are they going to eat without these traditional cooking methods? As such, almost half of all air pollution-related deaths each year come from in-doors.
A couple of countries with extreme air pollution are:
Figure B- construction in the city of Tehran
In Tehran alone (the capital), there are around 4500 air pollution-related deaths every year. And the main problem is traffic-related air pollution: 80% or all air pollution is from motor vehicles. So, according to the United Nations country classification, Iran is still a developing nation. But it’s also an OPEC nation (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) and the 5thlargest producer of oil in the world. Fuel is abundant, and as such, so is traffic-related air pollution.
Figure C- Ulaanbaatar, the capital, can experience serious episodes of smog
Ulaanbaatar suffers from such high levels of pollution you can taste it. Hospitals in Mongolia see around 300 children each day for breathing difficulties. The vast majority of them will no doubt be readmitted in the near future. What’s more, many of them would have been born with breathing conditions, like chronic bronchitis. Women in Mongolia exposed to high levels of air pollution during pregnancy are at far greater risk of their newborn developing such conditions. It’s a viscous cycle, with many experts predicting a lung cancer epidemic.
Even simple changes like making indoor air filters and cleaner, processed fuel like propane and butane tanks widely available, can make a major difference to in-door air quality in developing countries. Legislation for air pollution and economic growth should go hand-in-hand. International campaigns endorsing public transport and improving on existing transport links (or even building one in the first place).
30 people getting on one bus is a heck of a lot better than 30 individual cars on the road…
Donald Eide is an E-commerce business owner. His company, Honey Gusto, specializes in the manufacturing of medical devices and healthcare products and has a blog dedicated to it. However, he does have a passion for the preservation of the environment and likes to write about it in his spare time, spreading knowledge and concerns with others. He holds a BSc. in Geology and an MSc. in Environmental Health.
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Jamiyandorj, K. (2019). Buildings disappearing in the smog in Ulaanbaatar, January 2018. Image: Getty.. [image] Available at: https://www.citymetric.com/horizons/children-and-babies-pollution-mongolia-s-capital-ulaanbaatar-can-prove-fatal-4464 [Accessed 28 May 2019].
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Ronel, A. (2018). The Milad Tower stands beyond construction cranes and a residential complex in Tehran, Iran, November 3, 2018. [image] Available at: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/.premium-iran-at-a-low-point-tehran-is-sinking-literally-1.6719960 [Accessed 28 May 2019].
Serrano, M. and McNaughton, S. (n.d.). Polluted Air Is Lethal in These Parts of the World. [online] nationalgeographic.com. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/10/embark-data-sheet-air-pollution-world-lethal/ [Accessed 27 May 2019].
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WHO (2018). 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air, but more countries are taking action. [online] who.int. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action [Accessed 27 May 2019].