Archive for May, 2014
From the more depressing news about air quality department, a new OECD report was published today on the health impacts of air pollution. It calculates that outdoor air pollution kills more than 3.5 million people a year globally, far more than was previously estimated.
Air pollution has now become the biggest environmental cause of premature death, overtaking poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water. In most OECD countries, the death toll from heart and lung diseases caused by air pollution is much higher than the one from traffic accidents.
The OECD has estimated that people in its 34 Member countries would be willing to pay USD 1.7 trillion to avoid deaths caused by air pollution. Road transport is likely responsible for about half.
Air pollution in OECD countries has fallen in recent years, helped by tighter emission controls on vehicles, but it has increased in China and India as rapid growth in traffic has outpaced the adoption of tighter emission limits. The switch to more polluting diesel vehicles in many countries threatens to arrest the downward trend in emissions from road transport in OECD countries.
The cost of air pollution: Health impacts of road transport estimates the economic cost of the health impacts of air pollution from road transport – on a global scale, but with special reference to People’s Republic of China, India and the OECD member countries.
It establishes this estimate by multiplying the “value of statistical life” (derived by aggregating individuals’ willingness to pay to secure a small reduction in the risk of premature death) by the number of deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution, as released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2010.
Best of all, the OECD report references previous work by Emission Impossible Ltd for Auckland Council (see page 40).
WHO Press Release
GENEVA: 7 May 2014 – Air quality in most cities worldwide that monitor outdoor (ambient) air pollution fails to meet World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for safe levels, putting people at additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems.
WHO’s Urban Air Quality database covers 1600 cities across 91 countries – 500 more cities than the previous database (2011), revealing that more cities worldwide are monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting growing recognition of air pollution’s health risks.
Only 12% of the people living in cities reporting on air quality reside in cities where this complies with WHO Air Quality Guideline levels. About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends – putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.
In most cities where there is enough data to compare the situation today with previous years, air pollution is getting worse. Many factors contribute to this increase, including reliance on fossil fuels such as coal fired power plants, dependence on private transport motor vehicles, inefficient use of energy in buildings, and the use of biomass for cooking and heating.
But some cities are making notable improvements – demonstrating that air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for “space heating” in buildings, using renewable or “clean” fuels for electricity production, and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.
The latest available data have prompted WHO to call for greater awareness of health risks caused by air pollution, implementation of effective air pollution mitigation policies; and close monitoring of the situation in cities worldwide.
“Too many urban centres today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Children and Women’s Health. “Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe. So a growing number of cities and communities worldwide are striving to better meet the needs of their residents – in particular children and the elderly.”
In April 2014, WHO issued new information estimating that outdoor air pollution was responsible for the deaths of some 3.7 million people under the age of 60 in 2012. The Organization also emphasised that indoor and outdoor air pollution combined are among the largest risks to health worldwide.
There are many components of air pollution, both gaseous and solid. But high concentrations of small and fine particulate pollution is particularly associated with high numbers of deaths from heart disease and stroke, as well as respiratory illnesses and cancers. Measurement of fine particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) is considered to be the best indicator of the level of health risks from air pollution.
In high-income countries, 816 cities reported on PM2.5 levels with another 544 cities reporting on PM10, from which estimates of PM2.5 can be derived.
In low-and middle income countries, however, annual mean PM2.5 measurements could be accessed in only 70 cities; another 512 cities reported on PM10 measurements.
“We can win the fight against air pollution and reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and heart disease, as well as lung cancer,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Effective policies and strategies are well understood, but they need to be implemented at sufficient scale. Cities such as Copenhagen andBogotà, for example, have improved air quality by promoting ‘active transport’ and prioritizing dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling.”
The report notes that individual cities can take local action to improve air quality and thus go against regional trends. And good air quality can go hand in hand with economic development, as indicated by some major cities in Latin America which meet, or approach, the WHO Air Quality guidelines.
“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” said Dr Carlos Dora, Coordinator, Interventions for Healthy Environments, WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
Measures include ensuring that houses are energy efficient, that urban development is compact and well served by public transport routes, that street design is appealing and safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and waste is well managed. Such activities not only clean the air but can also serve as a catalyst for local economic development and the promotion of healthy urban lifestyles.
Despite the upswing in air quality monitoring, many cities in low and middle income countries still lack capacity to do so. There is a particular shortage of data in WHO’s Africa and Eastern Mediterranean regions.
The release of today’s data is a significant step in WHO’s ongoing work to advance a roadmap for preventing diseases related to air pollution. This involves the development of a global platform on air quality and health to generate better data on air pollution-related diseases and strengthened support to countries and cities through guidance, information and evidence about the health gains associated with different activities.