Air Pollution Killing Millions

by Daniel Brouse

It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 7 million people per year die as a result of air pollution. “According to the latest urban air quality database, 98% of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. Over 80% of those living in urbanized regions with air-quality monitoring breathe air featuring pollution levels that exceed World Health Organization safety limits.”

“Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death. It is good news that more cities are stepping up to monitor air quality, so when they take actions to improve it they have a benchmark,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant-Director General, Family, Women and Children’s Health. “When dirty air blankets our cities the most vulnerable urban populations—the youngest, oldest and poorest—are the most impacted.”

“Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health,” says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“It is crucial for city and national governments to make urban air quality a health and development priority,” says WHO’s Dr Carlos Dora. “When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows. Reducing air pollution also brings an added climate bonus, which can become a part of countries’ commitments to the climate treaty.”

The problem was thought to be mostly a problem in cities; however, new research show that parts of the world with the most farming are a big problem, too. In the study by by scientists at NASA and several universities, it was found that emissions from farms are greater than all other industrial sources of particulate air pollution in the United States, Europe, Russia and China.

“What we found surprising is simply the large amount that is attributed to farming that leads to near-surface air pollution,” said Susanne Bauer, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The largest U.S. impact is on the Northeastern United States “where nitrogen emissions from fertilizer and ammonia from animal waste combine with sulfates and nitrogen oxides from industries and automobiles.”

The article “Significant atmospheric aerosol pollution caused by world food cultivation” was published by Susan Bauer, Kostas Tsigaridis and Ron Miller:

Particulate matter is a major concern for public health, causing cancer and cardiopulmonary mortality. Therefore, governments in most industrialized countries monitor and set limits for particulate matter. To assist policy makers, it is important to connect the chemical composition and severity of particulate pollution to its sources. Here we show how agricultural practices, livestock production, and the use of nitrogen fertilizers impact near-surface air quality. In many densely populated areas, aerosols formed from gases that are released by fertilizer application and animal husbandry dominate over the combined contributions from all other anthropogenic pollution. Here we test reduction scenarios of combustion-based and agricultural emissions that could lower air pollution. For a future scenario, we find opposite trends, decreasing nitrate aerosol formation near the surface while total tropospheric loads increase. This suggests that food production could be increased to match the growing global population without sacrificing air quality if combustion emission is decreased.

More of the Human Induced Climate Change Experiment

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