It’s hard to believe the first federal air pollution legislation was the Air Pollution Act of 1955. Fifty-eight years later, the United States—and the world—are still struggling to come to terms with the importance of preserving the quality of the air we breathe.
Air Quality Awareness Week is on the calendar for April 29 through May 3, with the goal of bringing recognition to this vital concern. The Environmental Protection Agency has devoted a page on its website to resources and information about the topic, breaking different areas down into digestible headings.
Recently, a study in the journal PLOS Medicine featured research that presents findings linking air pollution to hardening of the arteries. It has long been known that ozone (popularly referred to as smog), and particle pollution present major health hazards. Young children, who have developing respiratory systems, are particularly vulnerable — particularly if they have asthma. Middle age adults, as well as the elderly, are already at increased risk for stroke and heart disease. Combined with exposure to ozone and particle pollution, the risk increases. Additionally impacted are people having cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and weight problems.
When air quality is poor, it is essential that these populations be aware of the levels of ozone and fine particulate matter. AIRNow, which has state and local partners, makes it easy to check out the air quality via a national map. Simple graphics describe the AQI with color codes that represent levels from “Hazardous” to “Good.” It’s easy to get hyperlocal with a zip code tool. My favorite feature was the photographic “visibility camera” webcams shots.
Areas of the country that the public believes are pristine are also being affected. It has been reported that the urban industrial pollution in parts of California has been blowing over to National Parks territories near Yosemite, as well as the eastern Sierra Nevada locale.
There are numerous examples and lessons to be learned from other countries. In China, the ability to attract and retain foreign talent and international commerce has been challenged by their extremely poor air quality. In South Africa, the eMalahleni region was cited for the elevated levels of air pollution from the area’s coal mining, metal production, and coal-fired power plants. In Cairo, Egypt, the World Health Organization has affirmed that the city’s residents are breathing the equivalent of a daily pack of cigarettes. Even the United Nations has underscored the importance of the dilemma. When it put together its 2030 development goals at the Oslo conference, the Director General of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, Kandeh Yumkella, addressed the fact that air pollution kills more people than both the diseases of AIDS and malaria. He suggested a shift towards cleaner energy sources could decrease these numbers by 50 percent—by the target date of 2030. He referenced a 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) study, which identified that 3.3 million died from outdoor air pollution (3.5 million people die each year from indoor air pollution).
It must be repeated, and has been noted, that the sequester has cut into EPA funding to the tune of millions of dollars. And yes, the effect is being felt.
As individuals, here in America and around the globe, the need to protect the air must be taken seriously.