3 (of the Many) Horrible Facts About the Air We Now Breathe

A new report says the greatest current threat to human health worldwide is particulate matter air pollution

Somewhere around the year 1300, King Edward I of England declared that the punishment for anyone who burned coal in his kingdom would be death. We’ve known pollution is bad for us forever. We do it anyway. Even though green tech can power our cars, heat our homes.

Near the close of 2018, new studies on air quality worldwide made headlines worldwide. Most notably, the new document  The Air Quality Life Index, cited below, which opens with the claim that “Particulate matter air pollution is the greatest current threat to human health globally.”

The air we used to breath was healthy. Over the last 200 years, we’ve sullied the air we breathe to the point that The World Health Organization has a website devoted to the devastating reality of how our health is impacted by our polluted air. According to the World Health Organization air pollution causes:

  • 4.2 Million premature deaths a year
  • 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer
  • 24% of all deaths from stroke

Fact 1: Particulates are tiny invaders of the cardiorespiratory system

Particulate matter (PM) refers to particles like soot, smoke, and pollution dust, that are suspended in the air. PM particles less than 10 micrograms make their way into our lungs, oxidize lung cells, and damag their DNA. This increases our risk of cancer. The particles’ interactions with lung cells can also lead to inflammation, irritation, and blocked airflow, increasing the risk of aggravating lung diseases that make breathing difficult, such as COPD. Smaller particles go deeper into our lungs, which, long science story short, can block blood flow to the heart and brain, and over time, lead to stroke or heart attack. New studies say PM in the bloodstream may cause the brain to age more quickly due to the inflammation. In addition, it may damage the brain’s white matter, which is what allows different regions of the brain to communicate.

Fact 2: Technologies can reduce particulate pollution, but they increase energy costs

“Several available technologies present the opportunity to reduce particulate air pollution … while maintaining energy production and quality of life,” the report says.

As an example, “For power plants, the technique of flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) removes the SO2 from the exhaust before it is emitted into the atmosphere … Knowledge of this chemical process has existed since the second half of the 19th century, and was first applied to power plants in London in the 1920s, when SO2 pollution led to public outcry and court action … Today, state-of-the-art FGD scrubbers can remove up to 99 percent of SO2 from power plant emissions, though FGD comes at a cost to the power plant and consumer.” So, technologies like this are not always used.

Fact 3: Latest evidence shows sustained exposure to particulate pollution causes shorter lives

Let’s keep this quote short, so it lingers with you next time you’re out walking the dog or scrapping ice from the car. ” The Air Quality Life Index reveals that the average person on the planet is losing 1.8 years of life expectancy due to particulate pollution — that’s more than devastating communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.”

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