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article imageWHO Report — Air pollution taking a toll on human health

By Karen Graham     Dec 3, 2016 in Environment
Every year, around three million deaths worldwide are linked to air pollution, and some years the numbers are much higher, according to the World Health Organization. Now a growing number of companies have come up with personal air quality sensors.
If you were to take a moment and Google "air pollution news," you would find that since December 1, Beijing, China, London, UK, New Delhi, India and a number of other cities, worldwide have issued air quality alerts because of pollution levels being dangerously high.
In September 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new air quality model that confirmed 92 percent of the planet's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General at WHO said the model represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO.
Maëlle Salmon ‏@ma_salmon
To compile their data, WHO scientists, in collaboration with the University of Bath, UK, used satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors from over 3,000 rural and urban locations. Also taken into account was the number of deaths by country linked to air pollution.
Nearly 90 percent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with two out of three occurring in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. And 94 percent are due to noncommunicable diseases, like cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. And that is not taking into account acute respiratory diseases.
"Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children, and the older adults," adds Dr. Bustreo. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."
We already know what causes air pollution, so it is no surprise when WHO lists the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, industrial pollution, inefficient types of transportation and the burning of waste. And we know, too, that not all pollution is caused by humans. Desert sandstorms and forest fires caused by lightning can also impact on air quality.
London's air pollution alert and air quality Apps
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has for the first time issued air quality alerts across the capital because of the high pollution levels provided by London's King's College. It was serious enough that over 2,500 signs were placed at bus stops, river piers and subway entrances across the city.
The smog was so bad that drivers on streets and roads were asked to turn their engines off when their vehicles were stationary. The air quality forecast said the "high" pollution level meant anyone experiencing sore eyes, cough or a sore throat should reduce their outdoor activities.
Smog in the early morning sunlight over central London
Smog in the early morning sunlight over central London
Carl De Souza, AFP
Increased air pollution levels have also prompted an increase in the number of people interested in what the quality of the air in their city might be. This has led to dozens of companies coming up with small, inexpensive sensors that are supposed to give the user air quality measurements.
But are these instruments accurate? Up until recently, air quality measurements were done by trained scientists using expensive and complicated equipment. Now, everyone is jumping on the air quality sensor bandwagon. All they need is a few dollars worth of electronics and some software, says Future Structure.
Gadgets such as the Air Quality Egg, the Tzoa, and the Speck sensor are just a few of the many products available to the public. The problem with these sensors is that they are being put into the hands of the public with very little information on how they should be used.
Air quality is dependent on many factors, like humidity, temperature, wind speed and even if the sensor is sitting in direct sunlight, or not. Opponents of these sensors are concerned that if people rely on inaccurate measurements, they could easily reach wrong conclusions. This could jeopardize their health.
There are many weather and air quality websites on the Internet that give users up to date information on air quality and other weather-related issues, so it begs the question of why in the world someone would need their very own pollution sensor.
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