Ecocentric

Unbreathable: Air Pollution Becomes a Major Global Killer

According to a new analysis published in "The Lancet," more than 3.2 million people suffered premature deaths from air pollution in 2010, the largest number on record

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Hindustan Times

A smoggy day in New Delhi, November 2012

The economic growth that many nations in Asia and increasingly Africa have experienced over the past couple of decades has transformed hundreds of millions of lives — almost entirely for the better. But there’s a byproduct to that growth, one that’s visible — or sometimes less than visible — in the smoggy, smelly skies above cities like Beijing, New Delhi and Jakarta. Thanks to new cars and power plants, air pollution is bad and getting worse in much of the world, and it’s taking a major toll on global health.

How big? According to a new analysis published in the Lancet, more than 3.2 million people suffered premature deaths from air pollution in 2010, the largest number on record. That’s up from 800,000 in 2000. And it’s a regional problem: 65% of those deaths occurred in Asia, where the air is choked by diesel soot from cars and trucks, as well as the smog from power plants and the dust from endless urban construction. In East Asia and China, 1.2 million people died, as well as another 712,000 in South Asia, including India. For the first time ever, air pollution is on the world’s top-10 list of killers, and it’s moving up the ranks faster than any other factor.

(MORE: India’s Air Pollution: Is It Worse than China’s?)

David Pettit of the Natural Resources Defense Council explains why air pollution can be so deadly:

So how can air pollution be so damaging? It is the very finest soot — so small that it lodges deep within the lungs and from there enters the bloodstream — that contributes to most of the public-health toll of air pollution including mortality. Diesel soot, which is also a carcinogen, is a major problem because it is concentrated in cities along transportation corridors impacting densely populated areas. It is thought to contribute to half the premature deaths from air pollution in urban centers. For example, 1 in 6 people in the U.S. live near a diesel-pollution hot spot like a rail yard, port terminal or freeway.

We also know that air pollution may be linked to other nonlethal conditions, including autism. Fortunately in the U.S. and other developed nations, urban air is for the most part cleaner than it was 30 or 40 years ago, thanks to regulations and new technologies like the catalytic converters that reduce automobile emissions. Governments are also pushing to make air cleaner — see the White House’s move last week to further tighten soot standards. It’s not perfect, but we’ve had much more success dealing with air pollution than climate change.

(MORE: Autism and Air Pollution: The Link Grows Stronger)

Will developing nations like China and India eventually catch up? Hopefully — though the problem may get worse before it gets better. The good news is that it doesn’t take a major technological leap to improve urban air. Switching from diesel fuel to unleaded helps, as do newer and cleaner cars that are less likely to spew pollutants. Power plants — even ones that burn fossil fuels like coal — can be fitted with pollution-control equipment that, at a price, will greatly reduce smog and other contaminants.

But the best solutions may involve urban design. In the Guardian, John Vidal notes that Delhi now has 200 cars per 1,000 people, far more than much richer Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore. Developing cities will almost certainly see an increase in car ownership as residents become wealthier — and that doesn’t have to mean lethal air pollution. (Even ultra-green European cities often have rates of car ownership at or above the level Delhi has now.) Higher incomes should also lead to tougher environmental regulations, which is exactly what happened in the West. We can only hope it happens before the death toll from bad air gets even higher.

MORE: Rio Climate Summit: Top 10 Priorities for a Planet in Peril

12 comments
TAHKICT
TAHKICT

Earth is trying to cleanse itself from us.We are like a disease that’s constantly destabilizing its homeostasis. There is another organism that behaves in such a manner, a cancer cell.

MitchLabuda
MitchLabuda

We know air pollution in the U.S. is a problem, but, we don't like regulations or the government agencies telling us what to do and then we pay to clean up the mess we make of our air, land and water, all the while decrying regulations intent on making our air, land and water, cleaner and safer.

TomGillilan
TomGillilan

USA IS KILLING ITS ELDERLY WITH AIR POLLUTION

JKBullis
JKBullis

(continuation of previous due to short limit on words)Let's get to the dust bowl to see some pictures of real particulate matter. In spite of all the obfuscation in the Ken Burns documentary about the cause being use of non-native species in agriculture, the real cure of the dustbowl was rain and in its absence, irrigation.So if we are really concerned about particulates in the air, we should do what it takes to enable universal irrigation.

This would control the kind of particulates that can be very harmful, uh well maybe, such as natural asbestos which is present in dirt on a widespread basis. Soot from diesels does not have asbestos in it, though sulfur has long been an issue since it can be a source of noxious stuff in the air.

But watch the reaction of NRDC to any notion of water redistribution!!! Here is where there is a need shown for moderate greenery.

JKBullis
JKBullis

Checking the study referred to, it is discovered that fine particulate matter is the material studied which is then redefined as soot by the NRDC writer.

Actually, fine particulate matter is heavy in rural areas where unpaved roads provide huge doses of fine particulate matter. Studies have shown that this is sometimes a problem, though having grown up in a rural countryside setting, this seems not to be all that serious. Some would say that allergies to ragweed in the Midwest are far more debilitating.

This is not to say that soot should not be controlled; it is not all that hard to do.

At least they have not tried to confuse soot with CO2 as a pollutant.

TomGillilan
TomGillilan

IF YOU TRAVEL TO LOS ANGELES BRING YOUR OWN AIR AND A GAS MASK

There are hundreds of thousands and more of stationary soot pollution hot spots in LA which is a city with some of the most unhealthy breathing air in the world already. SCAQMD refuses to clean up and remove these toxic soot hot spots because of their public health be damned attitude.

SCAQMD is going to fix LA air problems by focusing on cars of the future, not on solutions for today. Soot is here to stay in LA and all of California which has eight out of ten of the most polluted cities in the country.

DOCTOR DEATH IS IN CHARGE OF AIR QUALITY AT SCAQMD

BruceMiller
BruceMiller

Thorium Facts:(See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UT2yYs5YJs)(See:http://www.investmentu.com/2011/September/thorium-the-future-of-nuclear-power.html)( www.theoildrum.com/node/4971 )http://singularityhub.com/2012/12/11/norway-begins-four-year-test-of-thorium-nuclear-reactor/Failed American Policy from 1980's?"It is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges,capable of dominating Eurasia and thus of alsochallenging America... In that context, how America 'manages'Eurasia is critical...the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to preventcollusion and maintain securitydependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant andprotected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.”- Zbigniew Brezinski, The Grand ChessboardSad note : Pan Eurasian Alliances now major Creditors to a brokenand deeply in debt U.S.A.?Pressed Select before Paste and it works!

BruceMiller
BruceMiller

The Thorium reactors out of China and Norway will "AlterGlobal Energy Maps Forever" reduce dependency on fossil fuels,clear even China's skies of smoke from coal and oil, and by reducingOil dependencies even in the U.S., reduce the murderous quests thewars for oil. These, 'expensive pressure dome free', benign wasteproducing, plutonium free, mass producible, cheaper by factor of 10or more, scalable, and much higher efficiency systems, utilizing upto 99% of their fuel, running at very high temperatures for higherconversion efficiencies, and running on plentiful thorium, introduceMankind to the opening days of the real Nuclear Age for the world,and promise huge amounts of very cheap heat energy and consequentlyelectric power and mechanical energy for all humanity.

BruceMiller
BruceMiller

censored? I cannot cut and paste from my spelling corrector  Libre Office to this window?

BobSteneck
BobSteneck

it's not just the visible or what the electric co what to here  

JKBullis
JKBullis

@TomGillilan 

You really ought to ask people who have lived there since the 1960s about this. 

TomGillilan
TomGillilan

@JKBullis @TomGillilan  

There is always an army of no-brainers who  remember the bad old days when pollution in LA was so bad that .....and these no-brainers today refuse to address todays air pollution solutions. I lived in LA in the sixties and do reside there now.