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harmful air pollution smog

Recently we published an article “Solutions In Water Pollution”, discussing the damaging effects of water pollution on our health and well being.  So, what about air pollution and health?  Today, we will move our attention to the other major cause of poor world-wide health and well being,  and discuss and provide Solutions To Air Pollution.

Let’s get the official definition from Wikipedia on air pollution,

Air pollution occurs when harmful or excessive quantities of substances including gases, particles, and biological molecules are introduced into the earth’s atmosphere. It may cause disease, allergies, and even death to humans, and other living organisms, and damage the natural environment.

For more information on air pollution from Wikipedia, read here.  Poor air quality has long been linked to lung and heart problems, including coronary artery disease, emphysema, respiratory infections, stroke, and cancer, confirmed a 2016 Journal of Thoracic Disease reviewed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) study.  It also is especially dangerous for pregnant women, as it can contribute to birth defects.

Air pollution can also negatively effect numerous other conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.  Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable  to air pollution. In these one 2006 Pediatrics Child Health (NIH) study addressed the negative health issues of air pollution associated with young people and this 2015 Journal of Thoracic Disease (NIH) study older adults.

Two major types of damaging air pollution dominate in the US, and in most of the industrialized nations of the world, “ground-level ozone pollution”, per a EPA “Ground-Level Ozone Pollution” research, and “particle pollution”, per a 2019 Center of Disease Control (CDC) “Particle Pollution” research. Although there are others like carbon monoxide, per a CDC “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning” study; sulfur dioxides, per a EPA “Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) Pollution” research; nitrogen oxides, per a EPA Nitrogen Oxide (NO2) pollution” research; and lead, per a EPA “Lead” research.  These 2 major pollutants threaten the lives of millions of people not only in the US, but world-wide, such as in Iran.

A 2016 Journal of Research In Medical Science study reviewed by the NIH determined air pollutions have major impacts on human health, triggering, and inducing many diseases leading to higher mortality rates, particularly in the developing countries such as Iran.  In 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) released in a 2014 survey new estimates stating that 7 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution, one in eight of total global deaths, making it the world’s largest environmental health risk.

Unhealthy Smokestack Air Pollution Emissions

Thanks to The Clean Air Act the US has far less of both of these two pollutants now, than in the past showing that adopted Solutions To Air Pollutions are working, according to an EPA “Progress Cleaning the Air and Improving People’s Health” study.

A 2019 American Thoracic Society “Dramatic Health Benefits Following Air Pollution Reduction” study highlights that 25 years after enactment of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. EPA estimated that the health benefits exceeded the cost by 32:1, saving 2 trillion dollars, and has been heralded as one of the most effective public health policies of all time in the United States.  According to above study, emissions of the major pollutants of particulate matter, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and lead were reduced by 73 percent between 1990 and 2015, while the U.S. gross domestic product grew by more than 250 percent.

However, research findings are also showing significant additional human health benefits when air quality is better than the current national ambient air quality standard. The estimate of lives that could be saved by further reduction of air pollution levels is more than thirty thousand, which is similar to the number of deaths from car accidents each year according to a 2019 Carnegie Mellon University study.

Even so, still 62 percent, or 200 million people, live in areas in the U.S. where pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter exceed the standards, and air pollution is responsible for killing an estimated 55,000 people per year in the U.S. alone, according to a 2017 SagePub “Air Pollution and Climate Change” study.  Unfortunately, and even worse death toll numbers are found in all other countries in the world than in the U.S.

Unhealthy Auto Emissions

Still, 133.9 million people live in countries where monitors show unhealthy levels of both pollutants, meaning the air families breathe, could shorten life, or cause different forms of cancer.  In the U.S., the EPA tracks air quality and you can see today’s air quality across the U.S. and your locale, by visiting The CDC “Air-Now” site.

Google Global Efforts

Google has taken the health threat of air pollution very seriously by partnering with Aclima, an environmental-based sensor designer, by installing Aclima sensors in 21 of their office buildings to check air quality, as confirmed in a 2020 Aclima “Environmental Intelligence For People and the Planet” paper.

Google has also equipped their camera cars with these sensors called “Project Air View” (1).  In Denver area, three Aclima sensor-enhanced Google cars, conducted in collaboration with the EPA and NASA, collect data aimed to bring air pollution measurement down to street level, so people can view air conditions at a specific address and time of day.  Fast forward to today, Google has been building a map of air quality not just in different cities, or different neighborhoods, but on the “hyper-local” level of individual blocks or streets.

The data is gathered and then sent to the Google Cloud where it analyzed and integrated into an increasingly giant and detailed map.  The huge potential benefits has already been highlighted in a study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, involving Google’s air quality data from Oakland.

A 2018 BMC Environmental Health study combined the street-level data with six years of electronic health records from more than 40,000 local residents.  It concluded that those who lived in areas with higher levels of air pollution were significantly more likely to suffer from heart disease.

World Crisis Of Air Pollution

Google continues to expand Project Air View, as 50 more Street View cars will be kitted out with Aclima’s air quality mapping platform this summer.  Now that’s taking those efforts to the next level.

Google is hopefull that other non-Google fleets of vehicles around the world to consider adopting the technology.  Of all the pollutants in the air are, ground level ozone and particle pollution pose the greatest threats to humans, found a 2018 EPA “National Air Quality: Status and Trends of Key Air Pollutants” research.  So, what are ground-level ozone and particle pollution?

Ground-Level Ozone Pollution

It may be hard to imagine that pollution could be invisible, but ozone is.  It is currently one of the least-well-controlled pollutants in the US, and it is one of the most dangerous, according to the American Lung Association “Ozone” research.  Ozone (o3) is a gas molecule composed of three oxygen atoms. Often called “smog”, ozone is harmful to breathe.

Ozone aggressively attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with lung tissue

The ozone layer found high in the upper atmosphere, or stratosphere, shields us from much of the sun’s ultraviolent radiation and is beneficial.  However, ozone air pollution at ground level where we can breathe it, causes serious health issues, according to a American Lung Association study “Ozone”.  Ozone develops in the atmosphere from gases that come from tailpipes, smokestacks, and other sources.

These gases are created by a chemical reaction when oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) mix in sunlight and they react and form ozone smog.  The largest contributors to NOx and VOC are the oil and gas industry, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents, according to the EPA “Ground-Level Ozone Pollution” research.

These gases, such as “Acetaldehyde”, are primarily produced when fossil-fuels, such as gasoline, oil, and coal are burned, or, when some chemicals, such as solvents, evaporate, as confirmed in a 1996 EPA “National-Scale Air Toxic Assessment” study.  Nitrogen oxide is emitted from power plants, motor vehicles, and other sources of high-heat combustion.  CO2 is also a primary gas emitted from motor vehicles.

How does Ozone Harm Your Health?

Premature Death and Lower Birth Weight. Some research, like this 2014 Environmental Health Perspective (NIH) study has

health harming smog pollution

suggested that while particulate matter in the air doesn’t contribute necessarily to preterm birth, it does impact babies’ birth weights.

In rapidly developing countries, such as China, the highest levels of air pollution may be of concern for both outcomes, concluded a 2018 International Journal of Environmental Research In Public Health reviewed by the NIH. Still, ozone can shorten your life.  Strong evidence exists of the deadly impact of ozone from large studies conducted in cities across the US, in Europe, and in Asia, and researchers repeatedly found that the risk of premature death increased with high levels of ozone.

One 2014 IOS “Decreases in Short Term Memory, IQ, and Altered Brain Metabolic Ratios in Urban Apolipoprotein ε4 Children Exposed to Air Pollution” study regarding children in Mexico City.

Mexico City, the most populous city on Earth, has shown air pollution affects short-term memory and IQ, and may even change metabolites in the brain similar to people with Alzheimer’s disease.

California has major issues with air pollution, as the state is home to all of America’s top five most polluted metropolitan areas, with it’s over 18 million people and 6.4 million registered vehicles in just the Los Angeles area, according to the American Lung Association’s yearly study of the State Of the Air assessment.  Newer research, such as a 2018 NIH “Air pollution Linked to Risk of Premature Death” study, has confirmed that ozone increased the risk of premature death even when other pollutants also existed. Quoting the study:

We found that the mortality rate increases almost linearly as air pollution increases. Any level of air pollution, no matter how low, is harmful to human health.

Immediate Breathing Problems. Many areas in the US produce enough ozone during the summer months to cause health problems that can be felt right away.

Heavy Unhealthy Street Level Ozone Pollution