A 2019 study from 2000-2018 found that individuals in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, just by breathing the air in their city, had lung damage in the form of emphysema. Emphysema is a type of lung damage derived from smoking cigarettes, yet these individuals are afflicted merely by breathing the air in their city.
According to the NIH, air pollution is a mixture of natural and man-made substances in the air we breathe. This form of pollution involves exposure to fossil fuel particulates, noxious fumes and airborne dust; other examples include household cleaners, building materials, smoking and ground level ozone, also known as smog. The World Health Organization has stated that air pollution kills approximately seven million people worldwide every year. With the rise of our globalized economy and rapidly increasing population, air pollution will become an issue of intense focus in the coming years.
Los Angeles, according to the American Lung Association has the worst smog within the United States. In 2018 there were 87 straight days of air quality that violated federal standards. In the 20 years that the American Lung Association has recorded smog, LA rests at the top of the list of smoggiest U.S. cities, 19 years out of 20. Poor air quality in LA has been a problem since, at the very latest, 1943. The cars of that time period had very poor emissions regulations and constantly spewed noxious fumes that when heated by the sun’s rays became smog. The earth is warming, and with that rise in heat this will accelerate the pace of ozone (smog) formation. Los Angeles is a desert city and as officials look to the future, we know that between rising temperatures and populations, the city of angels will have to make serious changes to remove the title “Smoggiest city in the United States”.
When we look from a global perspective, India stands breathless and suffocating. The air pollution in Delhi is primarily particle pollution, a cocktail of small and microscopic solids that when inhaled can damage the respiratory system. The PM2.5 particles (smaller than 2.5 microns) are of grave concern due to their ability to penetrate deeply and cause the aforementioned damage to the lungs. In 2018, the World Health Organization showed that 11 out of the 12 cities with the most PM2.5 particle pollution are in India. In 2019, a public health emergency was declared in Delhi, leading the delay and cancellation of flights due to poor visibility and school closures. The air pollution in 2019 reached levels near the equivalent of smoking 45 to 50 cigarettes a day.
Has the United States air quality improved since 1980? Yes it has. However, “Will the current regulations be enough to stem the tide of a growing population and newly industrialized economies” is a question that remains contested. In this article I only highlighted two regions that are experiencing difficulties with air pollution, but they are hardly alone – China, New York, Pittsburgh, Bangladesh, Kuwait. This is a global problem that will require systemic and serious regulation in order to make progress. Our air is a precious resource and it needs to be protected so that all people can breathe easily and freely.
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Delhi India Image Source: McKay Savage from London, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)