In a previous post, , I tackled the cardiovascular effects of air pollution, especially the traffic generated fine particles. Aside from cardiovascular problems, air pollution also has some respiratory and neurological affects as well as effects overall life expectancy. A report in the January issue of the New England Journal of Medicine showed that a reduction in fine particle air pollution resulted in measurable increase in life expectancy.
Air pollution causes approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide. Young children and the elderly are especially susceptible.
Legislations for pollution take time to implement. As early as 1997, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to set health standards on air pollution. However, it was only 10 years later that the Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rules were in place. Even now, the attainment of the standards is not that easy.
In January 2008, Germany set the so-called low-emission zones all over the country. Each vehicle in the country or entering the country is required to have an emissions control sticker on the windscreen. These stickers will determine whether a vehicle is allowed to enter a zone. Thus, in large cities like Berlin and Cologne, only cars low emission stickers are allowed to enter, in order to mitigate fine particle pollution in urban areas. The stickers are issued by government agencies and classification is based on the model of the car, the age, the fuel used, and the last emission check.
In Switzerland, an efficient and reliable public transport is the key to reducing vehicular traffic. Many small towns in the Alps are declared “car-free” and all vehicles should be left outside of the towns while the towns themselves are serviced by buses and electric cabs.
Rapidly developing countries
The major concerns of air pollution, however, are not in the US or Europe but the rapidly developing economies like China and India. According to the National Geographic, air pollution in China is the “deadliest in the world.” This conclusion is based on a WHO report which estimated that “diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year, and polluted drinking water kills another 95,600.” The same pollution caused concerns during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Among the most toxic of pollutants in the air are sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide and China accounts for about one-third of the global total for these pollutants.
India is another country that is generating a lot of air pollution. Recent studies have also shown increasing incidence of cardiovascular problems in areas in India associated with air pollution. Over half a million air pollution-related fatalities a year have been reported for India. Estimate for the US is at over 40,000 a year.
Air pollution is a global problem and it doesn’t recognize national boundaries or geographical barriers. Thus, what a country does in curbing pollution may easily be jeopardized by what its neighbor(s) are doing. Clearly, there is a need for anti air-pollution initiatives and legislations on a global scale.