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

When legal action meets air quality

A few years 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.

Crazy for a cruise holiday? Let’s talk air quality

A cruise is one of the most sought-after holiday destinations. The Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, northern Europe and some areas in Asia have the largest array of Cruises with lavish restaurants and what seems like a relaxing holiday in the middle of nature but with all the conveniences of a touristy city on board. Worldwide a total of 24.2 million passengers enjoy cruises every year.

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.

Why?

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.

Meo’s air quality monitor- measures PM2.5 and PM10.

Let’s measure and take control of the air we breathe!

Sources:
Independent – Air quality on cruise ship deck ‘worse than world’s most polluted cities’, investigation finds
LaProvence – Le souffle pollué des géants des mers en Méditerranée

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