Air pollution causes 1 in 9 deaths worldwide, but we have the solutions to change that.
What is Air Pollution?
According to Wikipedia, “Air pollution is the introduction into the atmosphere of chemicals, particulates, or biological materials that cause discomfort, disease, or death to humans, damage other living organisms such as food crops, or damage the natural environment or built environment“.
Air pollution is a mixture of solid particles and gases in the air. It occurs when the air contains harmful amount of gases, dust, fumes and odour.
Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable. Nearly twice as many people die from traffic-related pollution as from traffic-related accidents. Not everyone has been to Asia or India to experience extreme air pollution first hand. So, we've put together some data from Uplift just on California. China's and India's air environments are 200x worse.
According to the American Lung Association, of our nation’s 10 urban areas with the dirtiest air, 6 are in California, including Los Angeles, Fresno and Bakersfield. .
On top of needless suffering and death, pollution hits us all in the wallet, piling up medical bills and causing thousands and thousands of missed days of work. The health and economic costs of dirty air are estimated at $28 billion each year in just L.A. and the San Joaquin Valley alone!
Air pollution causes 1 in 8 deaths worldwide.
Air pollution is a leading cause of many common killers. It accounts for about one-third of deaths from stroke, chronic respiratory disease, and lung cancer as well as one-quarter of deaths from heart attack. Ground-level ozone, produced from the interaction of many different pollutants in sunlight, can also trigger asthma and chronic respiratory illnesses.
Indoor air pollution kills 4.3 million people every year.
More than 40 per cent world’s population rely on open fires or traditional stoves to cook and heat their homes. The smoke that those fires produce includes heavy concentrations of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and other toxic air pollutants. Young children and women – who typically spend the most time inside around the fire – are at greatest risk of exposure.
More than 7,000 mayors have committed to reducing their cities’ air pollution emissions.
The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is an international alliance of cities and local governments that have committed to taking voluntary action to combat climate change by embracing low-emissions solutions. Mayors representing nearly 675 million people, or more than 9 per cent of the global population, have signed the Covenant.
Smog and soot
These two are the most prevalent types of air pollution. Smog, or “ground-level ozone,” as it is more wonkily called, occurs when emissions from combusting fossil fuels react with sunlight. Soot, or “particulate matter,” is made up of tiny particles of chemicals, soil, smoke, dust, or allergens, in the form of gas or solids, that are carried in the air. The EPA’s “Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act” states, “In many parts of the United States, pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70 percent.” The sources of smog and soot are similar. “Both come from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines—anything that combusts fossil fuels such as coal, gas, or natural gas,” Walke says. The tiniest airborne particles in soot—whether they’re in the form of gas or solids—are especially dangerous because they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and worsen bronchitis, lead to heart attacks, and even hasten death.
Smog can irritate the eyes and throat and also damage the lungs—especially of people who work or exercise outside, children, and senior citizens. It’s even worse for people who have asthma or allergies—these extra pollutants only intensify their symptoms and can trigger asthma attacks.
Hazardous air pollutants
These are either deadly or have severe health risks even in small amounts. Almost 200 are regulated by law; some of the most common are mercury, lead, dioxins, and benzene. “These are also most often emitted during gas or coal combustion, incinerating, or in the case of benzene, found in gasoline,” Walke says. Benzene, classified as a carcinogen by the EPA, can cause eye, skin, and lung irritation in the short term and blood disorders in the long term. Dioxins, more typically found in food but also present in small amounts in the air, can affect the liver in the short term and harm the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, as well as reproductive functions. Lead in large amounts can damage children’s brains and kidneys, and even in small amounts it can affect children’s IQ and ability to learn. Mercury affects the central nervous system.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are toxic components of traffic exhaust and wildfire smoke. In large amounts, they have been linked to eye and lung irritation, blood and liver issues, and even cancer. In one recent study, the children of mothers who’d had higher PAH exposure during pregnancy had slower brain processing speeds and worse symptoms of ADHD.
By trapping the earth’s heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases lead to warmer temperatures and all the hallmarks of climate change: rising sea levels, more extreme weather, heat-related deaths, and increasing transmission of infectious diseases like Lyme. According to a 2014 EPA study, carbon dioxide was responsible for 81 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and methane made up 11 percent. “Carbon dioxide comes from combusting fossil fuels, and methane comes from natural and industrial sources, including the large amounts that are released during oil and gas drilling,” Walke says. “We emit far larger amounts of carbon dioxide, but methane is significantly more potent, so it’s also very destructive.” Another class of greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in their ability to trap heat. In October 2016, more than 140 countries reached an agreement to reduce the use of these chemicals—which are used in air conditioners and refrigerators—and find greener alternatives over time. David Doniger, director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air program, writes, “NRDC estimates that the agreed HFC phase-down will avoid the equivalent of more than 80 billion tons of CO2 over the next 35 years.”