Year of Air: 2013

I mentioned some time ago (Noise Transfer on 3rd April, 2013) that we are privileged to have magnificent views of the river and hills beyond from our city centre house.  From the back bedroom window you can just about see the sea and we are certainly aware of it in most days due to the almost constant sea breeze (or gale).  So despite living in a city centre we are not amongst the 95 percent of EU city dwellers who are exposed to fine particles levels that exceed WHO guidelines.  However, the EU levels are well below those in Beijing that are 300 times the guidelines and probably comparable to those in London during the Great Smog of 1952 that caused cows to choke to death and contributed to the death of about 3000 people.  London has come a long way in the intervening 60 years with current levels of fine particles at about half the WHO guideline, which is 25 micrograms per cubic metre, whereas Beijing has recorded levels of 400. it has been estimated that 13,000 people die prematurely in the UK due to combustion related pollution compared to 1.2 million in China

In my post entitled ‘Extraordinary Technical Intelligence’ on 10th April, 2013 I wrote about the process of urbanisation and industrialisation that has been seen repeatedly across the world.  The progress of this process in a region can also be measured in the levels and type of pollution being generated.  The West has been where China is now, and where India and Africa are likely to go next.  Air pollution on this scale effects the neighbours of the polluter so we have an incentive to help alleviate the problem.  We should also feel a moral obligation because much of the pollution is associated with factories producing goods that we buy and probably don’t repair or recycle at the end their useful life [see ‘Old is Beautiful’ posted on May 1st, 2013] .  If we drew the system boundaries more appropriately then the pollution generated during the manufacture of these goods is as much our responsibility as the manufacturer’s [see my post on 19th December, 2012 about ‘Drawing Boundaries’].

This is the Year of Air, maybe it should have been called the Year of Clean Air to make it absolutely clear what it is all about, i.e. giving everyone on the planet the chance to live and breathe clean air!

BTW, a fine particle is one of diameter less than 2.5 microns or 1/30th diameter of one of your hairs.  One my PhD students is working on tracking nano-particles about a hundred times smaller as they interact with biological structures such as human cells, but that’s another story [see last week’s post].

Sources:

‘Under a Cloud’ by Pilita Clark in the Financial Times, July 13/14, 2013 [ http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/83ef4b78-eae5-11e2-9fcc-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2cgRhFXMs ].

Yim SHL and Barrett SRH. Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom. Environmental Science and Technology, 2012, 46 (8), pp 4291–4296.

‘Air Pollution Linked to 1.2 Million Premature Deaths in China’ by Edward Wong in the New York Times on April 1, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/world/asia/air-pollution-linked-to-1-2-million-deaths-in-china.html?_r=0

Silva, R.A., et al., 2013, Global premature mortality due to anthropogenic outdoor air pollution and the contribution of past climate change, Environmental Research Letters, 8:034005. http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/3/034005/pdf/1748-9326_8_3_034005.pdf

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