The results of the recent analysis of ambient air pollution, carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO), were published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on 13th May, 2016. According to the results, air pollution in poorer countries is on the rise quicker than half of the world’s developed countries. The delinquency in following the global air quality guidelines (AQGs) was identified as one of the important findings of the urban air quality assessment procedure. Additionally, a marked increase of 8% in air pollution was recorded.
It was observed that more than 80% of people living in urban areas, where air pollution is monitored, are exposed to air quality levels that exceed guidelines set by the WHO. Most people belonging to low-income countries were found to be at high risk of serious health complications such as chronic lung disease.
The exact findings from the analysis reported a shortfall of 98% among poorer cities (each with more than 100,000 inhabitants), in meeting the WHO air quality guidelines, whereas, high-income countries met 56% of the WHO’s guidelines.
While declaring the hazardous effects of the air pollution, the United Nation (UN)’s health organization, in their online forum publication, stated that the decline of urban air quality is associated with an increased risk of health-compromising complications. These complications included stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, in addition to asthma.
A list of countries according to pollution levels provided by the health organization compared the levels of small and fine particulate matter of less than 10 or 2.5 microns (PM10s and PM2.5s) from the data collected from 795 cities in 67 countries in the time period of 2010- 2015. The database covered the urban air quality data of 3,000 cities located in 103 countries.
Onitsha, a fast growing Nigerian city, was considered as the most polluted city with 30 times (594 micrograms per cubic meter) more than the WHO’s recommended levels of PM10 particles, which is 20 micrograms per cubic meter. Coming second was Peshawar, Pakistan, followed by Zabol in Iran.
Europe’s most polluted city, Port Talbot in South Wales, had only 25 micrograms per cubic meter of PM10 while the PM10 level in London was recorded to be only 22 micrograms per cubic meter of the particulate matter. Delhi, India, showed progress with decreased pollution levels compared to 2014. However, 21 of the world’s most polluted cities for smaller particles (PM2.5s) were also reported from India.
The worst air pollution recorded in a US city, was in California’s Visalia-Porterville area, but it ranked far lower than many developing cities of the world.
Africa was found to be one of the countries which did not provide any report on harmful air quality.
The evaluation of air pollution was carried out using data submitted to the WHO by different countries around the world. Additional sources included regional networks such as Clean Air Asia for Asia, Global Burden of Disease and the Air quality e‐reporting database from the European Environment Agency for Europe (EEA). In the absence of the above‐mentioned data, data from UN agencies, development agencies, articles from peer reviewed journals and ground measurements was also gathered.
Dr Maria Neira, Director, WHO, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said, “Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health. At the same time, awareness is rising and more cities are monitoring their air quality. When air quality improves, global respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses decrease.”
According to the WHO, air pollution has become the cause of more than 2 million premature deaths each year, with more than half of the burden being contributed by developing countries.
According to WHO, air pollution can be characterized as the contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent leading to modification of the natural atmosphere. The major pollutants include sulfates, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to health.
The underlying reason behind the dramatic increase of air pollution, suggested by WHO, was the exponential increase of common air pollutants such as household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires. Moreover, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide were identified to be pollutants of major public health concern.
A fact sheet named as “Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health” updated by WHO in March 2014, suggested several ways by which outdoor air pollution can be reduced. The emphasis on keeping a close eye on industrial practices and ensuring safe and clean industrial emissions was the key recommendation.
Similarly, detailed guidelines for switching to clean modes of power generation and usage of low emission vehicles in regard to the transportation were provided. Furthermore, different strategies for municipal and agricultural waste management were also emphasized upon.