Air Pollution and Human Health

  • 7 Pages
  • Published On: 29-11-2023
1. Introduction

Air pollution is a growing problem in the contemporary modern society, a problem which is unlikely to go away. WHO discovers, that 9 out of 10 people inhale air which is polluted beyond harmful levels, according to the WHO guidelines. Around seven million people worldwide are killed each year due to air pollution. These are shocking figures, and most of the brunt of air pollution is borne by people residing in cities like England and Wales, which are heavily industrialised.

The following document is a critical look into the recent threat of air pollution which has been steadily increasing over the years. The document will look at five primary sources on the extent of air pollution and its impact in the context of Wales.

2. Scope

The following section will examine the extent to which air pollution has been permeating the society, especially in the last 10 years and understand how it constitutes as a threat to human health and security. For this purpose, the paper will consult primarily five paper and the literature review and discussions that they’ve engaged in.

Presently, air pollution is considered to be the greatest threat to human health. The main factor contributing to detonating levels of air quality is understood to be human actions, which primarily sprang into action when industrialisation began. Amann et al (2020) elucidate that several factors are responsible for the sudden explosion of pollution from the 20th century; an explosion of population, increasing industrialisation which was happening to meet the needs of the increasing population, technological progress and the opening up of economic leading to economic competition between nations. They argue that policy has a key role to play in stopping future emissions. Based on the current policy scenario, if policies are implemented properly, then levels of particulate matter will decrease significantly. However, this is only for American and European countries, countries in South Asia and Africa will see a 25% increase in particulate matter pollution.

3. Key Findings

The impact of air pollution on human health is extremely severe. Likhvar et al (2018) postulate that the most harmful aspect of air pollution is cardiovascular diseases and respiratory problems in human beings. Air pollution is a significant cause of cancer in human beings. They discover that while at an individual level, one may not see several cases of diseases caused by air pollution, but they cause for significant strain on a country’s health budget. Likhvar et al conducted a Health Impact Assessment and discovered that in the case of Europe 42% of European population was exposed to particular matter pollution of more than 10 µg/m3, which is above the healthy air level as determined by WHO. They conducted a Health Impact Assessment and discovered that in the case of Europe 42% of European population is affected negatively due to air pollution. However, this is not a downward trend; figures show that particulate matter pollution has steadily been going on since the start of 2010 and in a decade, levels of particulate matter may reduce significantly. However, the presence of Ozone in the air is bound to see a significant increase in the coming years and it is postulated that by 2050, major areas of maximum concentration of Ozone will be in countries in Central Europe and these areas will mostly be near the sea level.

In the UK, pollution has been an issue since time immemorial. The most infamous incident of pollution in the UK was the 1952 smog episode in London which caused automobile accidents and raised an outcry for better policies to manage pollution. Hansell et al (2016), measuring air pollution in England and Wales over the period of 1971 to 2001, discover that particular matter which have diameters of 10 micrometers was an important form of pollutant in 2001. Before this, particular matter which had diameters around 2.5 was a significant form of pollutant, but PM10 also emerged as a significant pollutant in 2001. They discovered that the existence of sulphur dioxide and suspended particles were the biggest forms of pollutants in the 38 years of pollutant tracking that was done by them in England and Wales. Mapping the patters of air pollution and its relation to mortality, they discovered that the effect of air pollution on mortality is not immediate, rather it is a long term effective condition.

A similar research into the air quality of Wales, done by Brunt et al (2016) discover that in areas where income was lowest, pollution related health afflictions were the highest. In this sense, they realised, that deprivation related health issues were more prevalent than air pollution related health problems. In their research as well, they discovered PM10 as being a significant contributor to respiratory problems within the citizens of Wales and also the biggest contributor to respiratory disease related mortality. This could be the reason why, between the most affluent areas and the most deprived area of Wales, the former area residents are expected to live for seven years longer than the residents of the latter area.

4. Further Areas for Research

A pertinent way of understanding the extend and the impact of air pollution on human beings is studying the rates of cardio vascular diseases and the occurrence of these diseases over the years, as was done by Wilkinson et al (2014). They discover that some studies find positive correlation with myocardial diseases and the presence of particulate matter, however its possible that the results are skewed because most of the people who showed signs of that are people who were already vulnerable to these diseases.

A glaring gap in research which jumps out of all the papers which have been considered so far is that figures for gauging the impact of air pollution on the health of individuals is heavily dependent on medical records, which are mostly maintained in bulk by the state. These records are naturally not exhaustive and can only serve as proof to the very serious afflictions or problems that may be caused due to air pollution. A pertinent research question that may arise when someone considers a problem like this is; what are the initial signs of air pollution in an individual and which pollutants are the ones which, when exposed to an individual, can cause the most damage in the shortest amount of time?

Another question that can be considered for research is what is the cause for the declining levels of pollution in some of the major cities in the world. The falling trend of air pollution can be a result of greater international cooperation or of greater awareness among states which led to more environment friendly policies.

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Alternatively, one could also explore the link between poverty and damage due to air pollution, in a bid to understand how one can cost-effectively find treatments for individuals who are suffering from ailments which have been caused due to air pollution. From a socio-economic perspective, this could shed a better light into understanding the factors which policy making could take into consideration while taking into consideration the issue of air pollution. As research has shown, Wales is afflicted with air pollution which is disproportionally taking a toll on its citizens. In order to improve the general health of the population and close the economic gap, this question will need answers.

  1. Amann, M., Kiesewetter, G., Schöpp, W., Klimont, Z., Winiwarter, W., Cofala, J., Rafaj, P., Höglund-Isaksson, L., Gomez-Sabriana, A., Heyes, C. and Purohit, P., 2020. Reducing global air pollution: the scope for further policy interventions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 378(2183), p.20190331.
  2. Hansell, A., Ghosh, R.E., Blangiardo, M., Perkins, C., Vienneau, D., Goffe, K., Briggs, D. and Gulliver, J., 2016. Historic air pollution exposure and long-term mortality risks in England and Wales: prospective longitudinal cohort study. Thorax, 71(4), pp.330-338.
  3. Likhvar, V.N., Pascal, M., Markakis, K., Colette, A., Hauglustaine, D., Valari, M., Klimont, Z., Medina, S. and Kinney, P., 2015. A multi-scale health impact assessment of air pollution over the 21st century. Science of the Total Environment, 514, pp.439-449.
  4. Brunt, H., Barnes, J., Jones, S.J., Longhurst, J.W.S., Scally, G. and Hayes, E., 2017. Air pollution, deprivation and health: Understanding relationships to add value to local air quality management policy and practice in Wales, UK. Journal of Public Health, 39(3), pp.485-497.
  5. Milojevic, A., Wilkinson, P., Armstrong, B., Bhaskaran, K., Smeeth, L. and Hajat, S., 2014. Short-term effects of air pollution on a range of cardiovascular events in England and Wales: case-crossover analysis of the MINAP database, hospital admissions and mortality. Heart, 100(14), pp.1093-1098.

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