John Vidal “Air pollution: a dark cloud of filth poisons the world’s cities” http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/16/winter-smog-hits-worlds-cities-air-pollution-soars
According to the World Health Organisation, the toxic fumes of growing numbers of diesel cars are combining with ammonia emissions from farming, wood and coal fires, tyre burning, open rubbish dumps, and dust from construction sites and brick kilns. The consequence is a global crisis that threatens to overwhelm countries’ economies as people succumb to heart and respiratory diseases, blood vessel conditions, strokes, lung cancers and other long-term illnesses.
The toxic haze blanketing cities was observed last week from the international space station.
“It’s bad now, but we just don’t know what will happen in future,” says María Neira, WHO public health chief. “This is the first generation in human experience exposed to such high levels of pollution. In the 19th century pollution was bad, but it was concentrated in just a few places. Now there are huge numbers of people living with high levels of pollution. Nearly 70% of people in cities are exposed to pollution above recommended levels.”
According to a recent study in Nature, led by Johannes Lelieveld*2, director of the Max Planck Institute for chemistry in Germany, more people now die from air pollution than malaria and HIV combined. They include 1.4 million people a year in China and 650,000 in India. This compares with about 180,000 a year in Europe*3.
The problem is most acute in Asia, but many industrialised countries have been hit by smog this winter. Milan, Naples, Barcelona and some other cities in Spain declared an emergency and banned traffic for several days over Christmas; Poland’s most popular mountain resort, Zakopane, was choked in fumes; and several London streets breached their annual limits for nitrogen dioxide just days into 2016.
More than 90% of citizens in the European region are exposed to annual levels of outdoor fine particulate matter above WHO’s air quality guidelines. This accounted for 482,000 premature deaths in 2012, from heart and respiratory diseases, blood vessel conditions and strokes, and lung cancer.
But the WHO figures include only those cities that measure air pollution, and many of the worst offenders do not. “As the world urbanises, the pollution grows,” says Frank Kelly*5, director of environmental health research at King’s College London. “We suspect that many African cities have terrible pollution problems, but there is very little data. We know that places like Tehran are very polluted. In Europe the pollution is relatively clear in places like Germany, France and Britain, except for the diesel, but in eastern Europe, where they still have old industries, it is still very bad.”
According to a recent WHO study, the cost of disease and the premature deaths caused in Europe every year by air pollution was more than $1.6trillion in 2010, nearly 10% of the gross domestic product of the EU in 2013. The UK was estimated to have suffered $83bn (£54bn) in costs associated with air pollution. Elsewhere in Europe, the figures were Germany $145bn, and France $53bn. The highest was in Bulgaria, which spent an estimated 29.5% of its GDP on the costs of air pollution fatalities.
*1:See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060704/1151989089 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20100313/1268466640 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20150510/1431266093 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20151209/1449632204 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20151217/1450311322 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20151221/1450715740 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20151223/1450803405
*3:Jos Lelieveld, John S. Evans, Despina Giannadaki, Mohammed Fnais and Andrea Pozzer The “contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale”Nature, 17 September 2015; doi: 10.1038/nature15371http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v525/n7569/full/nature15371.html See also Jos Lelieveld and Andrea Pozzer “More deaths due to air pollution”https://www.mpg.de/9405012/mortality-air-pollution
*4:See eg. Doyle Rice “The most polluted city is? Hint: Not Beijing” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/12/07/beijing-air-quality-china-pollution/76924786/