According to Inside Climate News’ report on outdoor air pollution, the number of global deaths attributable to air pollution has increased by about 55% since the year 2000. Air pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the air, and is considered to be the largest existential threat to human and planetary health. In 2019 alone, air pollution was responsible for an estimated nine million deaths worldwide.
Half of the fatalities were caused by outdoor air pollution, which comes from burning fossil fuels for energy and production; vehicles, power plants, and factories then release gasses and chemicals into the air. Today, we’ll examine the effects of air pollution on society and how we can possibly mitigate the problem.
The Effects of Air Pollution
Air pollution greatly impacts two things: human health and the environment.
The effects of air pollution vary depending on the pollutant type, length and level of exposure, and other factors. As mentioned in our blog post on ‘Particle Pollution’, common solid particles like dirt, dust, smoke, and soot can mix with liquid droplets suspended in the air, harming our health. Coarse particles can irritate our eyes, nose, and throat — intensifying symptoms or attacks for people with asthma or allergies. Finer particles, on the other hand, are more dangerous as they can get into the deep parts of your lungs or even into your blood. Other common pollutants like mercury, lead, dioxins, and benzene can trigger long-term effects on health, which has led to air pollution becoming the world's fourth-largest risk factor for death.
Burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, while methane – another greenhouse gas – is released during oil and gas drilling. Together, these emissions raise the earth’s temperature, causing ocean acidification, sea-level rise, and ecosystem damage. In turn, these form risks to public health: more intense hurricanes and storms, heavier flooding, increased drought, and severe wildfires. Air pollution that causes environmental harm is further exacerbated by climate change; smog is worsened by increased heat, while flooding and weather changes boost the production of allergenic air pollutants such as mold and pollen.
Addressing the Problem of Air Pollution
So what can we do to help fix the problem of air pollution? There are three mechanisms to consider:
Consider a Holistic Approach to Healthcare
According to The Lancet’s study on pollution and health, most health ministries prioritize the treatment of diseases, leaving pollution prevention to environmental ministries – who often have less power. Despite the strong evidence of pollution’s contribution to morbidity and mortality, health programs often focus on individual, behavioral, and metabolic risk factors such as tobacco use, exercise, and obesity.
Of course, treating health cases involving air pollution is just one part of the solution. A feature on improving community safety by Maryville University points out how social determinants regarding specific health outcomes — healthcare access, neighborhood environment, and community context — play a significant role in the quality of life. For instance, limited access to affordable healthcare services can make it challenging to receive necessary treatment. It’s important to invest in basic needs and health advancements to mitigate air pollution risk.
Moving away from fossil fuels is our best chance to reduce air pollution and climate change. Clean wind, solar, and geothermal energy should make up the bulk of our supply. It’s critical to support leaders who can push for renewable energy using air and water.
We should also adopt responsible habits that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like buying food locally, choosing eco-friendly transportation, and paying more attention to green manufacturing and building practices to reduce our carbon footprint.
The AIRTEVA® furnace filter is an affordable, eco-friendly air filtration option that effectively improves your everyday air quality. This filter features a reusable aluminum frame, which lasts the lifespan of your AC unit. This means no more cardboard filters, which means less waste and more trees.
Amplify Work Done by Institutions
Sadly, only a small number of bilateral and multilateral organizations focus on pollution prevention, with meager international funding. Only a handful of countries have an integrated pollution response in their development strategies, so efforts remain fragmented and uncoordinated.
It’s important for us to support any laws, plans, and research contributions that focus on combating air and water pollution.
Air pollution is a pressing concern for public health and our planet. Although our global attention towards the issue of pollution and climate change may seem bleak, the World Economic Forum’s write-up on air pollution activists suggests otherwise. Citizens around the world are in support of stricter regulations to tackle air pollution, and many more wish to see air quality improve in their area. Moreover, young activists are taking a stand to protect their communities through awareness initiatives and funding programs to combat air pollution.
This article was specially written for https://www.filterfactory.com/ by Isla Grace.