A new study shows that over half of the world’s population is exposed to increasing air pollution. This may seem like a no-brainer, but research is always a good thing, especially when it comes to answering the who, what, when, and where type of questions that are needed in order to solve problems.
Led by Professor Gavin Shaddick at the University of Exeter, the study was undertaken in partnership with the World Health Organization. The findings show that global efforts to improve air quality aren’t working as well as they are intended to. Many people are breathing in increased levels of polluted air.
The WHO estimated that over 4 million deaths each year are a result of outdoor air pollution. “While long-term policies to reduce air pollution have been shown to be effective in many regions, notably in Europe and the United States, there are still regions that have dangerously high levels of air pollution, some as much as five times greater than World Health Organization guidelines, and in some countries, air pollution is still increasing,” said Professor Shaddick.
Some of the areas that experience the worst of it are Central and Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These populations are continuously exposed to increasing air pollution levels. Also, the majority of the world’s population continues to be exposed to levels of air pollution that are well above the WHO Air Quality Guidelines.
Diving Into The Study
The image above shows the average annual concentrations of PM2.5 for 2016 in the top part of the image. PM2.5 are particles that have a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers, which are more than 100 times thinner than a single strand of your hair. In the lower part of the image, it shows the differences in concentrations between 2010 and 2016.
“Although air pollution affects high and low-income countries alike, low- and middle-income countries experience the highest burden,” the report notes. These higher concentrations, as you can see in the top part of the image, center around Central Asia, eastern and southern parts of Asia, as well as the Sub-Saharan countries in Africa, which have it the worst.
Confused about the latter? Dust and sand coming from the desert are the sources of the high concentrations that are seen in parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Sub-Saharan areas of Africa. The increase of PM2.5 in this area is, notably, on par with the prediction of an increase of desert dust caused by climate change.
Marked Differences In Concentrations By Geographical Location
55.3% of the world’s population has been exposed to these increased levels of PM2.5 between 2010 and 2016. However, the study noted that there are differences in the direction and magnitude of world trends. In both North America and Europe, the annual average population-weighted concentrations dropped from 12.4 to 9.8 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3), while they rose in Central and Southern Asia from 54.8 to 61.5 μg/m3.
The study explained that the lower values seen in North America and Europe were the result of regulations that were implemented 30 years ago. These led to a decrease in air pollution over recent decades. Cuts in coal pollution were highlighted in particular. This was due to the Clean Air Act and similar “smoke control” legislation that was introduced a few decades ago.
One can learn from this study just how long-term policies aimed at reducing air pollution have been proven effective. They’ve been implemented in many countries, such as the United States and countries in Europe. Even with countries that have the cleanest air, though, there are still large numbers of people exposed to harmful levels of air pollution.
The study also showed that this problem and the need for it to be solved aren’t confined only to cities. There are many people all over the world living in rural areas who are exposed to levels above the guidelines. One example of this is how fecal dust from cattle feedlots are choking those living in rural communities that have cattle.
Fecal dust gets caught up in the high winds and creates a wall of dust that flows through the towns. It coated the homes and businesses while limiting visibility. That’s just one example. In Central and Southern Asia, from 2010 to 2016, population-weighted concentrations in rural areas rose by 11%. That was mostly driven by large rural populations in India. In these populations, 67.2% lived in rural areas.
In many parts of the world, people wear face masks to prevent the spread of viruses. One thing I’ve noticed while wearing them out and about (while chewing gum) is that they can make it easier to breathe. Even in the humidity, the air didn’t feel as rough on my lungs. I have asthma and had what the doctors thought was Covid (tests were negative due to my being in recovery when I was finally tested), so I may be a bit more sensitive to my lungs than the average, healthy person. Nonetheless, I definitely noticed it.
Americans are divided when it comes to wearing masks, but I feel like they can protect more than just from viruses. (However, I’m not a doctor or scientist, so I could be 100% wrong.) The most obvious solution, though, is to quit polluting the air. However, companies aren’t going to stop trying and Trump and Pence are all for destroying the EPA. So, for the time being, take matters into your own hands. Things such as humidifiers, salt lamps, masks, and other ways to clear the air help.