We, at meo, are constantly checking air quality in different places. This article will take us to Hong-Kong, Hollywood road the heart of the bustling city, end of November 2017.
We installed one of our ‘blue’ units in Guardian Fitness, a private fitness club, in October 2017. Data were particularly interesting on Wednesday 22nd November 2017, a polluted day, with outdoor PM2.5 at ‘Unhealthy for sensitive groups’ level. Guardian Fitness could be seen as one of the “Safe Heaven” offered to Hong-Kongers, with both PM2.5 and VOC kept in the “Green” zone.
PM2.5 refers to the small particles that we inhale when we breathe. They are tiny enough to go through your lungs, and enter your bloodstream triggering health reactions.
VOC refers to the gases exhaled by new furniture, new carpets, new mats, new paints … each time there is renovation ongoing, or when standard cleaning products are used, as they contain a lot of unhealthy chemicals.
Now, you know that you have 2 good reasons to join the lessons at Guardian Fitness: Fitness in clean air
Cities across the globe are facing increasing levels of air pollution. Particles so small that we cannot see and gases at ground level, penetrate our bodies affecting us in many ways: cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory illnesses, strokes, heart attacks, asthma and many more are all common effects of air pollution.
What can cities do?
WHO’s initiative ‘Breathe Life 2030’ calls for cities to take action in the following areas to reduce air pollution:
- TRANSPORT: does your city have a solid transport system? Are car emissions controlled? Think about…
- Walking and Cycling paths
- Efficient mass transport
- Controlled emission standards
- Soot-free vehicles
Cities that transform into pedestrian & cycle-friendly and with efficient mass transit systems and controlled emissions generate less pollution and are more liveable.
- ENERGY SUPPLY: Cities are big energy consumers, striving for cleaner energy production is key. Think about…
- Renewable power supply
- Diesel replacement
Cleaner energy production will impact positively the air quality in that given city.
- WASTE: proper landfill management can decrease the emission of gases.
- INDUSTRY: industries in and around cities should be strictly controlled for their emissions.
- AGRICULTURE: agricultural areas around cities should be careful with irrigation, reduce open burning and manure management to control emission of gases and particulate matter affecting nearby cities.
- HOUSEHOLD: households should be helped to make sure they use low-emission stoves and fuels, improved lighting and passive building design.
However, the first step is always to understand local air pollution, how does it build up in a city, when and how does it clear up. Each city has different patterns of producing air pollution and different natural ways of dispersing it. Understanding how this interaction happens is essential for any city to take steps to improve air quality.
Monitor, monitor, monitor!
Nowadays cities have a handful of high-end air quality monitoring stations that provide a broad view of air quality in any given city. This information may also be compared or complemented with satellite images. But both options provide general information. In real time, most cities cannot precisely say the pollution levels at block level or intersection level. This is a limitation to understanding local air pollution and to taking precise local measures to improve air quality or to measuring the effectiveness of any given measure.
Be a smart city, track outdoor air quality with blue: have multiple data points, understand local air pollution and find data oriented solutions!
How often do we think about the air quality in our children’s school, where they spend almost a third of their day?
In cities with poor outdoor air quality, schools usually limit outdoor physical education and break time according to local outdoor air quality readings. But what about the quality of the indoor air?
Let’s think about it for a moment!
Studies have shown that poor air quality in schools increase absenteeism, decrease test scores and compromise staff and student productivity.
When we think of academic excellence we’ll seldom think of structural and maintenance practices that can provide the optimal environment for teachers and students to thrive. Nonetheless, leaky roofs, poor heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems (HVAC), inappropriate use of cleaning products among others can make a difference in academic excellence.
In fact, poor indoor air quality can cause asthma, respiratory infections and allergic diseases which start a spiral of effects from school absenteeism to poor performance.
What is the impact of indoor air quality in schools?
Asthma, respiratory infections and allergic diseases are commonly caused or exacerbated by moisture in HVAC system, microbiological pollutants, animal allergens, nitrogen dioxide or other combustion byproducts, chemicals in cleaning products, low ventilation, formaldehyde, dampness, mold, outdoor pollutants or vehicle exhaust.
Asthma for example is suffered by millions across the world – approximately 1 in every 10 children! And it is the main reason students skip school in the US. Asthma can be controlled with medications after it occurs but a great deal can be done before it occurs by controlling the environmental triggers, especially in closed environments like schools.
For optimal indoor air quality in schools, we need to:
Be in Control
Monitor air quality,
Act to breathe cleaner,
Enjoy the benefits!
Architecture can have a positive or negative impact on a building’s energy efficiency. But can it effectively improve air quality?
China started recently the construction of Liuzhou Forest City, which is expected to be a satellite neighborhood completed by 2020 connected to the main city by rail. It is a wild reminder of the importance of architecture in controlling air quality in our living environments. This city is specifically designed to fight air pollution by extensive use of vegetation throughout the building façade. The design by Stefano Boeri Architetti follows the experience of their two buildings inaugurated in Milan 2014: Bosco Verticale. In China, 1 million plants and 40,000 trees planted all over the project will absorb 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of other pollutants per year.
According to the architecture firm: “The diffusion of plants, not only in the parks and gardens or along the streets, but also over building facades, will allow the energy self-sufficient city to contribute to improve the air quality (absorbing both CO2 and fine dust of 57 tons per year), to decrease the average air temperature, to create noise barriers and to improve the biodiversity of living species, generating the habitat for birds, insects and small animals that inhabit the Liuzhou territory,”
The idea to control air quality through architecture is not new. For decades, urban planners have worked and invested in bicycle paths, innovative transportation programmes, and looked into how to improve the cities’ walkability. All features with the objective of reducing emissions from cars and transportation. However, the role of the physical buildings themselves in improving air quality is picking up with many novel ideas in the past decades.
A few interesting and encouraging examples out there include 1. Mexico City, the Manuel Gea Gonzalez Hospital has an external structure that is coated with titanium dioxide. This coating -Provolste360e- helps break down pollutants when exposed to light by releasing free-radicals. Tiles coated with this substance can be used on any surface in the city and repurpose old façades. 2. Paris where the Musee Quay Branly with its living wall that absorbs carbon dioxide and emits oxygen. Yet another example is the Congress Gateway Towers in Chicago, which have an air filtration system to absorb CO2, which then feeds growing algae and is processed into biofuels to provide clean energy for the building.
There are also some smaller initiatives as standalone solutions: the Dan Rosengaarde Smog Free Tower, a smog sucking vacuum tower already installed in Beijing; and CityTree, the ultra tech green wall that can be displayed as urban furniture to help control air pollution.
Architecture has a lot to offer to control air quality, and ideas are sprouting in many directions.
They key to their use on a larger scale is to show their effectiveness by monitoring how air quality is improved following these various initiatives.
MONITOR, ACT AND TAKE CONTROL OF THE AIR QUALITY THAT MATTERS TO YOU!
Unfortunately for cruise holiday goers, reports conducted by journalists in France and in the UK have shown that fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5 and PM 10) is particularly high on these cruise destinations.
Cruise ships are important sources of air pollution impacting the routes they cover and the cities in which they dock. One cruise ship emits the same amount of carbon dioxide as one million cars per day. We might think that this is only the trail left by the cruise, but in fact it affects also the people on the cruise. Journalists measured the air quality on the main deck and found that the concentration of fine particles was twice as high as the concentration in London’s Picadilly Circus and similar to the measurements in New Delhi, all coming from the same ship’s funnels.
Cruises use residual fuel of very low quality, it’s the fuel left after the refined fuel for cars has been extracted. But it’s cheap and maritime global regulation is limited and difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, the International Maritime Organization has fixed the 1st January 2020 as the date for all passenger ships to use fuel with maximum 0.5% lead content, it is now 3 times that level at 1.5%.
All cruise goers and communities living in the ports where these cruise ships dock have the right to know what they breathe. More regulation is essential, but constant monitoring on-board and off-board is essential to reassure users and communities of the air quality they are exposed to.
Blue -Meo’s air quality monitor- measures PM2.5 and PM10.
Let’s measure and take control of the air we breathe!
Sleep is not the first thought we have when thinking about the effects of air pollution.
A study conducted by Dr. Martha E. Billings, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington was presented in May at the American Thoracic Society International Conference. The study shows that air pollution affects sleep quality.
“Prior studies have shown that air pollution impacts heart health and affects breathing and lung function, but less is known about whether air pollution affects sleep,” said lead author Martha E. Billings “We thought an effect was likely given that air pollution causes upper airway irritation, swelling and congestion, and may also affect the central nervous system and brain areas that control breathing patterns and sleep.”
The study conducted showed that both PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide are linked with poor sleep quality. The higher PM2.5 concentration leads to 50% odds of having poor sleep. Similarly, high levels of nitrogen dioxide increased by 60% the chances of experiencing poor sleep.
Exactly why, is yet to be studied, but air pollution irritates nose, sinuses and back of throat which affects breathing and ultimately may have an impact on sleep quality. Also, air pollutants can enter the blood and can potentially have an effect on the brain and its breathing regulation capacities, therefore disrupting sleep.
“These new findings indicate the possibility that commonly experienced levels of air pollution not only affect heart and lung disease, but also sleep quality. Improving air quality may be one way to enhance sleep health and perhaps reduce health disparities,” Dr. Billings said
Sleep problems are common everywhere and on the increase. The use of multiple aids to sleep is increasing. This study shows how important it is to look at our environment, know the quality of our indoor and outdoor air and take measures to improve it. Improving air quality in our indoor space may go a long way in helping us having better sleep quality!
Monitor air quality
Act to breathe cleaner
Enjoy the benefits!
Sources: http://neurosciencenews.com http://www.thoracic.org/about/newsroom/press-releases/conference/2017/billings-and-air-pollution-and-sleep.php?platform=hootsuite/sleep-air-pollution-6746/ http://www.newsweek.com/air-pollution-sleep-environment-air-quality-613384https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/may/21/air-pollution-linked-to-poor-sleep-study-finds
A few days ago, a French woman launched a law suit against the French government for failing to protect her from air pollution. More precisely, for ‘culpable incompetence’ by not having a heavy hand against polluters and not taking strong preventive measures. She is asthmatic, 56 years old and a yoga teacher that suffers gravely from every air pollution spike. She is the first plaintiff in France but her lawyer says there are about 30 more in Paris, Lille and Lyon who are planning legal action!
Are law suits the new way to push for better air quality?
In fact, we know of several examples in Europe where legal action is being used to push governments for better air quality. In April 2015, the UK legal NGO ClientEarth won a Supreme Court ruling against the UK government. The ministers were ordered to design a plan to ‘bring pollution down within legal limits as soon as possible’. The new plan was presented in 2016 but the government was slammed once more by another legal battle won by ClientEarth at the High Court.
“The government’s new plans to tackle air pollution are woefully inadequate and won’t achieve legal limits for years to come,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews to The Guardian “The longer they are allowed to dither and delay, the more people will suffer from serious illness or an early death.”
“There is clear consensus that the government’s plans are wholly inadequate to address this public health crisis,” said Kerry McCarthy, Labour’s shadow environment secretary. “It should not take legal action to force the environment secretary to take urgent action and help save lives.”
In September 2016 in Prague, the Vlasta Coalition NGO lodged a law suit against the local ministry’s plan to tackle air pollution. Three individuals have joined the law suit from various parts of the country with their claims. Similarly, The European Commission threatened legal action against France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK for failing to protect their citizens from air pollution. ClientEarth is in fact partnering with local NGOs to launch cases across Europe against local and national governments. The first one to appear is legal action against Lombardy – a region in the north of Italy with Milan in the Centre of it.
More data on air pollution and more knowledge about its ill health effects will provide the basis for citizens to demand their rights and for governments to better understand how to manage policies to improve air quality.