Nov 15

Chemists may help solve air-pollution health crisis

One of the top five risks for human health includes poor air quality, while the others are blood pressure, smoking tobacco, diabetes, and obesity. The poor air quality has contributed to around 8% of deaths around the world, according to a 2015 statistic and long-term exposure has created health hazard risks such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, heart attack, lung cancer and stroke. The air pollution has led every individual to be party to so-called “passive outdoor smoking”. Pollutants such as NOx, O3 and particulates have to be controlled in cities and other industrial regions and the percentage of PM2.5 has increased, which is a particulate size small enough to penetrate deep into human lungs. Therefore, research on air quality and processes on how to possibly work on improving it is needed. Investigations at multiple locations — which have varying chemical and meteorological conditions and different origins of pollution — can build on information from air-quality networks to help resolve the health impacts of various pollution sources. Such studies could untangle the role of diesel exhaust particles, of wear and tear on vehicle tyres and brakes, or of secondary organic aerosols. They might reveal the relative importance of the mass of PM2.5 constituents versus particle size, number, and composition. A global effort is needed to achieve adequate and unified air-quality standards. It should prevent highly polluting industries from relocating to countries that have more permissive environmental regulations, which leads to trans-boundary health impacts through international trade. Together with the WHO, the UN Environment Programme can bring together scientists and policymakers, as it has done for stratospheric ozone depletion and climate change.

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