‘The State of Global Air Report 2017’ – 95% Of Us Still Breathing In Unhealthy Air

23rd April 2018

The right to breath clean, unpolluted air is something I’m sure most of us would hope for and aspire to. Indeed, improving air quality is an issue we’re passionate about here at AC Pulse.

But according to the authors of a recently published report into global air quality, approximately 95% of the world’s population are still breathing in air which is considered unsafe according to guidelines laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Produced by The Health Effects Institute (HEI), The State of Global Air Report 2017 – along with HEI’s interactive website – provides current and comprehensive information on air pollution levels across the world, and accompanying effects on health.

Read on for our full summary of the report’s findings, or use the links below to find specific information quickly if you’re short on time.

Why Should We Be Concerned About Poor Air Quality Anyway?

It appears beyond question now that poor air quality can have a negative impact on our health and well-being.

Multiple research studies over the years have investigated whether there’s any link between the two, and have concluded that exposure to polluted air (both in the short and long term) is a risk factor for disease.

The HEI report highlights that years of research have shown that when air pollution levels increase in a particular location, so do the numbers of people dying there prematurely.

It also estimates that some 6 million deaths worldwide in 2016 were attributable to forms of indoor and outdoor air pollution.

In particular, exposure to poor quality air is believed to increase the risk of heart attack, lung cancer and stroke.

Some other studies have also suggested associations between long-term and acute exposure to air pollution and a number of other conditions such as asthma, diabetes and neurological disorders, although further investigation into these is currently ongoing.

What Exactly Is Air Pollution?

We often hear the term ‘air pollution’ discussed in the media, but what does it actually mean? And what causes the air we breath to become unpleasant and unsafe?

Well, air pollution is essentially a complex mixture of gases and particles. The source and composition of these vary, and at any given time there may be hundreds of different chemical compounds present in the air we breath, both indoors and outside.

Sources of outdoor air pollution, particularly in urban areas, include emissions from cars and other forms of transport. Factories, coal-fired power plants, and other industrial manufacturing processes also generate emissions which can clog up our air.

In terms of indoor pollution there is still a huge reliance on the burning of solid fuels such as wood, charcoal and coal to heat homes and cook with, especially in rural areas in developing countries. This generates particles which can become lodged in our lungs and cause health issues further down the line.

The quality of our indoor air can also be compromised by seemingly innocent items that most of us will probably have in our homes, like air fresheners and cleaning products. Our other article discusses these, and other types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in more detail if you’re interested in learning more.

Which Areas Have The Highest Concentration Of Air Pollution?

To produce their report, HEI analysed data from satellites and other air quality monitors to determine what percentage of the planet is exposed to air considered to be unhealthy, and where the highest concentrations of air pollution are.

These were found to be in North and West Africa, along with South Asia. The reason for this could be that these areas are where the solid fuel burning, discussed above, is still commonplace.

But air pollution isn’t restricted to only these areas. If the figures quoted in the HEI report are accurate, it means that only 5% of the world’s population are currently breathing air that is deemed to be clean and harmless.

Hope For The Future?

The good news is that it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom. 

Sure, the current figures make sobering reading, but there are also encouraging signs that it is possible for governments and regions to turn things around through the implementation of different policies and strategies.

For example, in India there has been an effort to address indoor pollution caused by solid fuel burning by offering liquefied petroleum gas as an alternative cooking fuel, and through electrification.

In China, which has in the past had somewhat of a reputation for toxic air, a series of public protests has lead to the implementation of a number of measures – such as reducing the use of coal – which has seen air pollution levels stabilise, and even slightly decline.

So rather than approach the future with a sense of impending doom, a degree of cautious optimism might be permitted instead.

Indeed, the HEI report makes reference to a number of locations where air quality management approaches have reduced pollution levels, resulting in a corresponding improvement in public health.

What Can I As An Individual Do To Improve The Quality Of The Air I Breathe?

Of course, it’d be naive to assume that the problem of air pollution will be eradicated in the near future.

It will undoubtedly require a concerted effort by the Government, businesses and citizens of each nation. New policies take time to formulate, fund and win public approval.

But in the meantime there are things that we can do on an individual level to influence the quality of the air we’re breathing in on a daily basis.

We may not have the ability to control what is happening outside, but we can make our own indoor spaces (homes, workplaces) healthier and safer.

Investing in an air purifier is one way to do this.

Air purifiers are electrical devices which work by drawing in the air contained within a room, trapping polluted air particles in that air inside a filter, and then blowing clean air back out.

Air purifiers with HEPA filters are able to capture more particles than those without as they have smaller holes in them. This allows them to retain 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns in size – so essentially the most microscopic of things.

The types of air pollutants captured by an air purifier typically include mold spores, pollen, dust mites, some bacteria and viruses, pet dander, and some gases and VOCs.

Amazon has a great selection of HEPA air purifiers – see here for the latest prices

There are also now some models on the market which the manufacturers claim are able to remove smoke particles from the air.

As well as improving the general health of our indoor air for everyone, air purifiers are also considered to be particularly beneficial for people who suffer from allergies. There are many glowing testimonials online from customers who’ve found their symptoms much improved following the installation of an air purifier in their homes.

There are now many different manufacturers and models on the market, meaning they’ve become far more affordable in recent years – it’s possible to pick one up nowadays for under $100 (here’s a great budget unit that we especially like).

They can’t of course solve the problem of outdoor air pollution, but given that we spend an estimated 80-90% of our time indoors each day, they can help to ensure that those hours are spent in as healthy an environment as possible.

Conclusion

The Health Effects Institute intend to update their report of the state of global air annually, focusing particularly next year on cities and countries which have successfully improved their air quality and public health, and the steps they took to do this.

We look forward to reading this when it’s released, and will again collate the results for our readers so please swing by then if you’re interested in discovering what difference a year has made.

Fingers crossed it’s a step in the right direction. And that the ability to breath unpolluted air will – slowly but surely – become a right that future generations will be able to enjoy, wherever in the world they are.

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