We consume, ergo we pollute!

So much is said about the appalling air pollution in China, how its citizens suffer and how only the rich can take adequate protective measures. But so little has been said about how we may all be linked to this pollution, even if we have never set foot in China.

Researchers from Tsinghua University, University of California and other institutions have recently published a paper with very interesting data on how we all bear the brunt of air pollution in China and how pollutants aided by global air currents reach neighboring countries  and affect the health even of those who leave in distant territories. This gives us an idea of the uncontrollable and controllable components of air pollution.

This research looked at PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) in 13 regions across 228 countries, and found that 12% of premature deaths (410,000) globally result from pollutants emitted in a different country, but which are often moved around by global wind conditions. While this result shows us how difficult it is to run away from air pollution that sees no real borders, it definitely makes us see the relevance of monitoring air quality regardless of how far we live from sources of pollution.

At the same time, this study explains how we all bear the brunt of air pollution in China and other countries of Asia. In fact, 90% of air pollution-related global mortality comes from power stations, airplanes, shipping and factories. All elements that constitute global trade. The ever-expanding nature of markets have made cheap products that flood western markets, the basis of a considerable amount of pollution in the East: China, India, Indonesia etc.

Cheap products are produced in Asian countries for a number of reasons – cheap labor and a lack of environmental regulations, which means that the process of production is highly contaminated and contributes to air pollution not to mention water or soil contamination. In addition, these products are produced far away from the place of their consumption so shipping and airplanes need to be heavily used to freight them to their end users.

Dr Qiang Zhang, one of the researchers, revealed that in 2007 consumption in the United States and Western Europe was tied to 110,000 premature deaths in China. In fact, the minute we buy cheap products, we are unconsciously increasing our share in air pollution.

“If the cost of imported products is lower because of less stringent air pollution controls in the regions where they are produced, then the consumer savings may come at the expense of lives lost elsewhere,”

This is why their main message is:

“We need to move our lifestyles away from cheap and wasteful,” Qiang Zhang

This research clearly shows the need to measure air quality and act to protect ourselves, regardless of how far we live from the source of pollution. And secondly, makes us understand how our consumption patterns can make a difference in the air quality suffered in other regions of the world.

Sources:
The Guardian – Thousands of pollution deaths worldwide linked to western consumers
HuffPost – Air Pollution Links People Thousands Of Miles Apart In Deadly Ways
The Economist – Airborne particles cause more than 3m early deaths a year
Nature – Transboundary health impacts of transported global air pollution and international trade

School’s Indoor Air Quality

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:

Sources:
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Printable Version of the Coordinator’s Guide for Indoor Air Quality
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Indoor Air Quality in High Performance Schools
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Managing Asthma in the School Environment

Trying to sleep but you cannot?

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!

Sources:
Neuroscience News
AMERICAN THORACIC SOCIETY – Air Pollution May Disrupt Sleep
Newsweek – Trouble Sleeping? Air Pollution May Be to Blame, Study Says
The Guardian – Air pollution linked to poor sleep, study finds

Better Air Quality is the Smart City Challenge

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 meo air analytics: have multiple data points, understand local air pollution and find data oriented solutions!

Sources:
BREATHELIFE – A global campaign for clean air

Checking air quality where it really matters!

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  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.

http://guardianfitness.hk/

Now, you know that you have 2 good reasons to join the lessons at Guardian Fitness:
Fitness and clean air!

Air Quality Policy in HK

Beyond the constant air pollution news and our daily experience with pollution, how much do we know about air quality in our Asian cities? And do we know what the local governments are doing to improve air quality?

Today we will take a look at the situation in Hong Kong. Pollution in HK comes from local street-level pollution caused by vehicles and regional smog caused by motor vehicles, marine vessels, industry and power plants both in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region.

What is the Government doing?

The Government has an Air Pollution Control Ordinance and a Clean Air Plan where the objective is to achieve ‘reasonable and practicable air quality to safeguard the health of the population’. Strategies include controlling emissions from motor vehicles, marine vessels, power plants and industry and coordination with the Guangdong Provincial Authorities to implement a joint plan. Strategies are based on the Air Quality Objectives (AQO) set in 2014 and are a combination of WHO’s ultimate Air Quality Guideline (AQG)  and interim targets. In the table below we can see a comparison between WHO AQG and HK AQO with regards to PM10 and PM2.5.

The Actions

What is the current situation like?

The Clean Air Network HK has recently released a report based on 2016 data where they found that HK AQO haven’t been met in the past 3 years and in fact is usually twice the WHO recommended level. Moreover, on a daily basis there is a variation of readings in which peak times air quality is 2.6 times worse than off-peak times, suggesting vehicles are having a higher role in damaging local air quality.

 “The growth of vehicles number has gone uncontrollable and offset some of the effort made by the government, especially to reduce NO2.” The CEO of Clean Air Network, Patrick Fung, said.  “The next term of government should look at this imminent issue as top of the agenda. Traffic has been a daily headache to all Hong Kong people, and is an impediment to the improvement of air quality, public health and other living qualities.”

According to the Hedley Environmental Index of HKU School of Public Health, the air pollution in 2016 caused 1,686 premature deaths, 21.6 billion direct economic loss and 2.65 million additional doctor visits.

Overall, we need to have more information on air quality and a broader coverage of monitoring stations in order to better understand the situation in the city and have targeted local policies!

Sources:
http://www.hongkongcan.org/hk/resources/public-education/ http://www.enb.gov.hk/en/files/New_Air_Plan_en.pdf http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/air/air_quality_objectives/air_quality_objectives.html http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/sites/default/files/epd/english/environmentinhk/air/air_quality_objectives/files/compliance_eng.pdf

Meo’s Great News to Share!

Today we would like to share some exciting news about meo’s progress! We have been hard at work on many fronts in the past months and October has seen the fruition to some of these efforts.

We are very excited to announce that meo’s air quality solution is the first of its kind being patented. The HK Intellectual Property Office has validated meo’s air quality solution which is now “Patented”. Simultaneously, our trademark for the name and logo of meo has also been accepted as of early October.

You probably remember our recent call for social media support in our run for the Hong Kong CityTech award. Well thanks to your support, we received the CityTech Award from Civic Exchange and the Internet Society. The meo solution was selected and polled well, getting the third most votes via social media of 20 initiatives detailed on the website.

And the best part is that we are advancing well in our seed-funding round and are now able to dive into the optimization of our current prototype. We are making sure the product that will hit the market in December 2016 will have high quality, precision, accuracy and functionality.

 Safe Indoor Air, Safe Businesses!

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