Air Monitoring

Billions of People Around the World Are Now Exposed to Dangerous Air

Jul 09 2016 Read 1685 Times

The latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that billions of people around the world are now exposed to dangerously high levels of pollution. Compiling figures from over 3,000 cities around the globe, the WHO report details levels of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) and 10 (PM10).

The data shows that global pollution has risen by an alarming 8% over the last five years, with the majority of the increases coming in areas of developing countries in the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific.

Far above legal levels

The study shows that many cities around the world have five or 10 times the legal limit of air pollution, with one in particular having 30 times the safe amount of PM10.

“More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organisation limits,” says the report. “While all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted; 98% of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. However, in high income countries, that percentage decreases to 56%.”

Particulate matter has come under ever-increasing scrutiny in recent years, with a plethora of studies linking it to cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, as well as premature death in extreme cases. Indeed, outdoor air pollution is thought to claim more than three million lives on an annual basis and even the grave data uncovered by this latest report probably doesn’t tell the whole story, since large parts of Africa are not capable of recording their emissions.

Asia the leading polluter

Due to its massive population and extreme industrialisation, China has long been seen as the principal offender in terms of global air pollution. However, in recent times air pollution in China has been decreasing due to a number of incentives instigated by the government. The WHO data reveals that the country has five in the top 30 most polluted countries in the world, while India has a staggering 16. The remaining nine are made up by a single city in a different country each time.

In fact, India also has eight cities in the worst 30 for PM10, as well. Elsewhere, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria all are among the worst offenders, with the latter being home to Onitsha, the most polluted city in the world according to the statistics. It was in this rapidly-developing port town and transport hub that record levels of 600mg/m3 of PM10 were discovered – roughly 30 times the WHO maximum level.

Britain better but not blameless

Despite having been a political objective for more than 60 years, the UK still suffers from less than perfect air quality. Port Talbot was the dirtiest town in the UK, due to its position as a stronghold of Welsh steel manufacturing, while London, Glasgow, Southampton and Leeds followed behind.

Inverness was the cleanest city in the British Isles, ahead of Bournemouth and Newcastle. However, since the data failed to take into account pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone, it can’t be claimed that the UK is conclusively free from air quality issues. In fact, it’s imperative that the government and the populace as a whole work together to improve the air we breathe, for all of our sakes.

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