In this article, published in October 2017 on HuffPost India, Prof. McNeill and Dr. Julia Nunes break down the data for particulate air pollution in cities across India. Air pollution is at an unhealthy level for a large part of the year, in most Indian cities.
The pie charts show the number of days in the past year that the average PM2.5 level fell into the following three categories: Green days (PM2.5 < 35.4 μg m-3) are healthy or moderate, yellow days (35.5 μg m-3 to 55.4 μg m-3) are unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children, the elderly or those with lung disease, and red days (PM2.5 > 55.5 μg m-3) are unhealthy for all. For more information on the data sources: https://aire.mcneill-lab.org/india-aq-2016-2017/
This article was written by Prof. V. Faye McNeill and her colleague, Dr. Julia Nunes. It gives details on ways to protect yourself and your family from the effects of air pollution. It is the first in a set of articles. The next article in the series will break down air pollution data from across India, demonstrating that most Indians are exposed to unhealthy air for much of the year.
World Asthma Day reminds us at the AIRE team why we care about clean air. Air pollution is a trigger for asthma. According to the 2017 HEI State of Global Air report, most people on Earth are living with PM2.5 concentrations which the US EPA has labeled as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” which includes people with asthma. Air Quality has improved enormously in the US, to the benefit of asthmatics and everyone else, since the passing of the Clean Air Act of 1970. The improvements in US air quality are even visible from space. However, India, China, UK, and other nations worldwide are currently facing air quality crises. Cleaning up the air in order to protect public health, while at the same time meeting climate goals, will require a combination of technical insight, policy innovation, and political will.
V. Faye McNeill, Beijing, China, December 21, 2016
Much of China, including the capital city, Beijing, is experiencing sustained heavy smog this week, with air pollution at hazardous levels for the past three days. Concentrations of fine particulate matter in Beijing’s air today exceeded 400 ug/m3, more than ten times China’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard (35 ug/m3). The episode has caused an increase in hospitalizations and disruptions in air traffic due to poor visibility. The government has declared a “red alert” and taken emergency measures including industrial shutdowns, odd-even traffic restrictions, and school cancellations to protect public health.
“I love Beijing. I grew up here and spent my whole life here. If it weren’t for the air pollution, I would love living here. But now I think about leaving. Many people are leaving.”
Air quality is an ongoing issue in Beijing, and a major subject of concern for its residents. As one Beijing native told me: “I love Beijing. I grew up here and spent my whole life here. If it weren’t for the air pollution, I would love living here. But now I think about leaving. Many people are leaving.” According to the U.S. Embassy, between 2008-2015, the daily average air quality index in Beijing fell in the “Unhealthy,” “Very Unhealthy,” or “Hazardous” categories 67% of the time. A severe air quality episode in January 2013 was somewhat of a turning point, leading to increased pressure on the government to tighten regulations. One outcome was the amendment of the national ambient air quality standards. Meeting the new standards for PM2.5 would be a major step towards protecting public health. But, as episodes like this one show, improvement is slow to come. Plans for local implementation and enforcement of the new air quality standards are still in the development stages. In some cases major changes in infrastructure are needed in order to reduce emissions, and this can take time. Local efforts alone won’t be enough: The city of Beijing has made bold moves towards eliminating coal burning within the city, but much of Beijing’s pollution comes from upwind sources, outside the city limits.
With the will of government and the people aligned, China is poised to turn around its air pollution problem. Unlike the U.S., which greatly improved its air quality in the last century and now must tackle climate, China is in a position to develop smart new policies and technology to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions simultaneously.
It’s hot as the Dickens and it’s an air quality action day in the New York city area and in much of the Northeast. Skies are currently blue but the air quality index is in the ‘Unsafe for Sensitive Groups’ range. This plus the super hot weather makes for dangerous conditions for asthmatics, the elderly, and other sensitive groups. So do your best to chill out indoors this weekend!
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, air quality in NYC is getting better. Here at AIRE, we hypothesized the opposite last summer. Based on a very unscientific survey of our own asthma responses and perceptions of visibility in the city, we suspected that summertime air quality had been on the decline in recent years (2014-2015). To test this hypothesis, summer undergraduate researcher Silvia Vina Lopez gathered Air Quality Index (AQI) data for NYC from 2000-2015, and data on criteria pollutant (SO2, CO, NO2, O3, PM) concentrations from 9 NYSDEC monitoring sites around the five boroughs. Here are some highlights of her findings:
Overall, air quality has been improving since 2000. Importantly, there has clearly been a steady decrease in the number of “bad air days”. Since 2000, the number of days categorized as “Unhealthy for sensitive groups,” “Unhealthy,” or “Very unhealthy” has been on the decline.
Since 2008, the number of “Good” air quality days has had an overall upward trend, but there indeed has been a sharp decrease in “Good” days since 2013. Since “Moderate” air quality is also pretty good in the big scheme of things, this trend may be subtle to perceive as you’re walking the streets of NYC unless you have asthma (like us) or think about PM 2.5 a lot (also like us).
To dig deeper into these trends, Silvia investigated the frequency with which each criteria pollutant exceeded the 24 h NAAQS standards. She found that SO2 violations decreased between 2004-2009 and have stayed low. The City attributes this trend to changes in heating oil regulations. On the other hand, the frequency of PM2.5 violations increased over the same time period and has remained elevated since 2009. This value decreased somewhat between 2007-2015, consistent with the data presented in the City’s survey, which covered 2008-2014. However, the average number of PM2.5 violations 2009-2015 was still significantly higher than 2000-2005.
The verdict: air quality in NYC is not bad and getting better in general. However, work needs to be done to reduce PM2.5 violations, and hold on to the gains made between 2008-2014. One possible source of elevated PM2.5 not mentioned in the City’s report is secondary organic aerosol formation: the formation of PM2.5 in situ, due to gas-phase reactions of oxidants and volatile organic compounds (which can be natural or man-made).
Moms Clean Air Force is an organization of families fighting against environmental pollution. Their website is full of excellent resources, with information on such topics as indoor air pollution, fracking, smog, and more. Our favorite feature is the “mom detective.” They have a very active and interesting twitter feed at @CleanAirMoms. Moms Clean Air Force is sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund.
Moms Clean Air Force es una comunidad de familias unidas contra la contaminación del medio ambiente. Su sito del web (enlace por debajo) es muy informativo y interesante, con muchos recursos en español sobre temas incluso: contaminación del aire en interiores, la fractura hidráulica (fracking), y el smog. Siguelos por twitter: @mamasairelimpio
Moms Clean Air Force es un proyecto del Environmental Defense Fund.
This cold, cold Valentine’s weekend may bring to mind staying indoors with your sweetheart and lighting some candles. Well, the AIRE team would like to suggest roses for your celebration this year instead, because candles are a notorious source of indoor air pollution, and that’s not very romantic!
The open flame of a candle produces aerosol particles. One study found that a candle can be one of the a strongest sources of ultrafine particulate matter in the home, stronger than even a burning cigarette (Afshari et al. 2005). Paraffin-based candles emit toxic compounds like toluene and benzene (because paraffin is a petroleum byproduct). Scented candles up the ante due to the semivolatile organic compounds that are used to give them their delicious scents. These compounds may have their own health effects, or contribute to secondary organic aerosol formation.
If you do burn candles in your home, good ventilation is key. You may also want to choose a beeswax or soybean-based, unscented candle.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the AIRE Team!
Reference: Afshari et al., Indoor Air 15 (2) 141-150, 2005
Hoy en día, Barcelona supera el nivel máximo permitido de NO2, debido al tráfico, en el aire. Es posible que NO2 es un “interruptor endocrino” que causa un desorden hormonal que hace acumular grasas. Este estudio se centra en la influencia del NO2 en el desarrollo y la salud de los fetos y los niños de corta edad, dado que la contaminación resta capacidad de aprendizaje a los menores.
Los compuestos químicos de las emisiones del tráfico son solubles en grasas lo que facilita que se acumulen con facilidad y permanezcan durante mucho tiempo en el ambiente y las personas. El Centro de Recerca Epidemiológica Ambiental (CREAL) ya demostró que los menores que viven en las zonas más contaminadas sufren de una alteración en la atención y memoria de trabajo.