Air Related Resources - Introduction to Air Quality

Have you ever wondered what makes fresh air fresh? Try and recall the last time you were at the seaside, or up in the mountains, or in a forest. The air in these locations is perceptibly different from the air that most of us are exposed to on a daily basis, which is an urban environment polluted by traffic and industrial exhausts. Scientists have determined that fresh air consists of certain constituents, and the absence of contaminants. What makes air fresh and invigorating appears to be an abundance of negative and positive ions, and minimal levels of pollutants, especially suspended particles.

However, the opposite is usually true in cities - negative ions have mostly been removed, resulting in unbalanced and excessive positive ions; airborne particles are abundant from vehicles and other industrial processes, along with toxic fumes, germs and allergens.

Consequently, not only is the air in cities not fresh, research has conclusively shown that living in such polluted environs can be extremely detrimental to health! Polluted city air is now an accepted fact throughout the world, from Beijing to Buenos Aires, Barcelona to Bangkok. Knowing this to be true is one thing; the challenge is protecting ourselves from the dangers of long-term exposure, a much more daunting proposition. Unlike eating and drinking, where we have the choice of what, when and where we eat or drink, we have no option but to breathe wherever we are ALL the time, regardless of how dirty the air is.

The majority of the world’s population now live in large conurbations. In most countries, particularly in the Asian continent, there is continual migration of the rural populace into the cities. As cities increase in size, so do the numbers of vehicles on the roads. Factories and other plants also increase, with the inevitable result of incremental pollutants being discharged into the atmosphere.

Unlike the strict environmental legislation that regulates industrial and vehicular exhausts in the West, in the growing economies of Asia, enforcement of these discharges is largely overlooked. As such, the air in many Asian cities rank amongst the worst globally for pollutants. In a report in 2007, China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission linked rising birth defects to the worsening environmental degradation in the country¹.

Although it may seem that only the Asian cities suffer from bad air, it has to be remembered that most of the research that point to the dangers of air pollution have come from the Western countries. It is therefore a misconception to think that air pollution is under control in the West, and there is no need to be concerned about air quality if we are living in western societies.

Air pollution is of such concern that the American Heart Association issued a statement to healthcare professionals in 2004 to warn of the risks to cardiovascular health from exposure to current levels of pollutants in the U.S². More recently, scientists in Australia have implicated air pollution as being the cause of reduced foetal size during pregnancy³.

Along with the worldwide emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA⁴,⁵ and Acinetobacter⁴, and deadly viruses such as SARS⁶ and bird flu, there is mounting urgency to find a solution to the problems of contaminated air. Whilst the health risk of each contaminant may be small, the fact that countless people are breathing polluted air around the globe means that it can quickly mushroom into a public health problem of enormous magnitude.

1. China birth defects soar due to pollution
2. Air pollution & Cardiovascular disease - A statement for healthcare professionals
3. Air Pollution Shrinks Fetus Size, Study Suggests
4. Superbugs Warning
5. MRSA In The Community: A New Threat To Children’s Health?
6. SARS: Getting To The Core Of An Emergent Public Health Threat
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