In January 2016, Delhi, India, improved air quality on its streets when it conducted a 2-week air pollution reduction experiment, with private cars allowed on the streets only on alternate days, depending on license plate numbers. The idea is not new and has been tried elsewhere (Paris and Rome) but I guess its novelty (“who’d have thought” brigade) to the USA explained why it made The New York Times!
Last year, it was all headlines about Bejing [China] and the air quality citizens had to deal with. However it would seem that actually Beijing’s levels of PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 micrometres in size), a measure of air quality, decreased by 40% from 2000 to 2013, whereas Delhi's PM10 levels have increased 47% from 2000 to 2011.
Delhi's PM10 levels are nearly twice as much as in Beijing, and it has the worst PM 2.5 levels of 1600 cities in the world. Thus the need for the license plate experiment. In a BBC article, you can read more about the reasons “Why Delhi is losing its clean air war” and discover the varied & innovative measures China has taken to ameliorate motor car use.
No doubt spurred on by Delhi’s experiment, a health journalist in Bangladesh alerted the HIFA forum to the equally bad situation in India’s neighbour, Bangladesh.
He declared the main environmental health threat to his country was air pollution. Automobile and industrial emissions in urban areas of Bangladesh, and “polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting” (relied on by millions of his people, and described in Air pollution, women and media).
One of the new Sustainable Development Goals aims to help those millions by ensuring universal access to clean fuel and technologies.
We here in UK are also adversely affected by air quality through the impact of motor traffic, in particular diesel cars and buses. A recent report stated that air pollution kills 40000 a year in the UK. There is talk of a ban on diesel vehicles in London and Paris apparently has already taken this step.
Diesel fuels were championed to reduce CO2 emissions but research has shown that they increase health-damaging particulates in the air we breathe.
Air quality measurement includes particulates
Particulates PM 10 and PM 2.5 are the main focus of attention, both separately increasing the risks for heart attacks and lung cancer [Air pollution linked to higher risk of lung cancer and heart failure], and can trigger asthma. They are the usual two particulates measured. Through HIFA, I learnt of an air quality study in an American neighbourhood, where the local school of public health was using state of the art air quality monitors designed to capture 28 particulates plus noise and vibration (from motor vehicles going through the neighbourhood).
I wondered how many countries, and indeed local neighbourhoods, are conducting air quality studies? Are Low-and-Middle- Income-Countries learning from our mistakes or simply repeating them? What’s the research base and which countries have acted to reduce (ameliorate) the impact of motor cars? I looked of course to CABI’s Global Health database, and found over 12000 records on “air pollution”, and over 5500 records on “air quality”. There were 266 records about air pollution and air pollutants in particular neighbourhoods. Clearly neighbourhood studies are “the new boy on the block” (excuse the pun).
Sign up to our free newsletter Global Health Knowledge Base to get topical updates on global health from CABI. March 2016's issue is focussed on Air Pollution.
- Air quality in Europe 2015 report
- WHO Burden of disease from ambient and household air pollution (1 in 8 people in the world die from air pollution exposure)
- Germany: Conference on soot and other climate-related pollutants (from Health and Environment Alliance)
And from CABI's Global Health database, (links for subscribers to Global Health on CAB Direct):
- Outdoor air pollution IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans 2016
- PM2.5 and mortality in 207 US cities: modification by temperature and city characteristics Epidemiology 2016
- Study on the adsorption capacities for airborne particulates of landscape plants in different polluted regions in Beijing (China) International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2015
- Identifying inequitable exposure to toxic air pollution in racialized and low-income neighbourhoods to support pollution prevention Geospatial Health 2013