Last week I started a brief poll on Twitter because I wanted to obtain feedback from the community. The subject was simple “Which source of #AirPollution affects you the most?”
263 people responded and unfortunately, I can’t say that the results surprise me. Vehicle traffic was voted as number #1 source of air pollution with a massive 53% and it was followed by 32% wood burning for heating like wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, etc. 7% of the users voted that agriculture is the source of air pollution in their communities and an 8% voted other.
I would like to comment about each category individually, but first of all, I would like to make something clear. All sources are equally important, I don’t rank them from most to least important but I classify them based on what people think is the source in their community, and it varies a lot.
Media coverage on this subject is huge and especially during the pandemic and lockdowns where there were reductions in urban pollution mainly from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is notorious toxic gas. The Volkswagen emissions scandal, also known as Dieselgate is another subject that the media covered a lot back in 2015. Air pollution from vehicle emissions is an all-year-round problem that occurs all over the world.
In Europe and North America, things are a bit better due to regulations in some cities/zones and because we tend to drive newer cars but the problem is still present. Madrid, London, Berlin, Milan, Athens, etc are capital cities where the emissions surpass the “safe” limits especially when the weather conditions are not helping blow away the pollutants.
Nevertheless, air pollution from vehicle emissions is not only present in big cities. Those cities may have AQ Stations to monitor it, so we are able to quantify the pollutants, something that we cannot do if we don’t have AQ monitors. Previously, I said that there are regulations in some cities/zones: Zones because cities are big and in one area of the city there may not be air pollution but in some other areas of the city (in most cases poor zones) air pollution is unregulated.
In some other countries like India, Colombia, South Africa, etc regulations are non-existence and on top of everything, cars are not regulated for emission either. They drive very old vehicles that don’t come with any kind of catalytic solution to filter some levels of pollution.
It makes sense that traffic was voted number one. If you are unlucky and you live next to a busy street then there is not much you can do and don’t let me start on noise/vibration pollution.
Wood burning was voted number two. One more unregulated habit we humans have to heat our houses but in some cases burning wood and its derivatives is not a subject of heating but luxury/status as it creates a cozy atmosphere indoors. Well, it doesn’t as scientific studies have demonstrated that outdoor pollution can enter indoor environments very fast, very easily. We believe that when we are indoors we are safe and outdoor conditions, like the weather doesn’t affect us. However, the air is something we can’t control easily and once high concentrations of PM2.5 are present in a neighborhood, they will find their way indoors.
We can close windows and doors but at one point we will need to bring fresh air indoors because we exhale a lot of CO2, we cook, we use chemicals to clean, and we move around, as a result, indoor pollution builds up. Even when we have everything closed when we have a fireplace or a wood burner indoors, air needs to come inside the house for the smoke to escape from the chimney, otherwise, it doesn’t exit the house.
Every winter we produce enormous amounts of particulate matter in our effort to heat houses incorrectly. A lot of CO2 and many more chemicals are as toxic as PMs. From November to March in Northern Hemisphere and from June to September in Southern Hemisphere.
There is no need to burn stuff (solid/liquid/gas) in order to keep ourselves warm, we don’t live in caves anymore! By the way, biomass is not sustainable and it is as bad as wood burning.
Agriculture burning is another bad habit of our stubbornness not to use tools instead of destruction. Agriculture burning is present everywhere there is agriculture production as some agriculturalists use fire for vegetation management in the fields. Unfortunately, they burn everything from garbage to wood. India is infamous for the agriculture burning in November as farmers want to get rid of the old crops and seed new crops as soon as possible. Latino America and Mediterranean countries also practise the same foolishness. The solution though is so much easy as a crop crushing machine can manage the waste without air pollution. A crop-crushing machine can even benefit the soil with nutrients.
My twitter followers provided me with some feedback about various other sources, like ship exhaust from shipping vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar or any other port, pollen when cities choose to plant trees unwisely, diesel rail engines especially near industrial sites, waste burning & incinerator, and finally bonfires.
I was surprised that no one mentioned mega-fires from the wildfires, which produce enormous air pollution plumes capable of traveling miles away!
I could write another book about air pollution and the sources because there are so many things to discuss. I kindly ask politicians not to turn a blind eye. It affects everybody, young and old, rich and poor.
I think it is time to regulate vehicle and marine traffic (and not restricting it in specific areas) and take into account ultrafine particles (UFPs), ban wood-burning in cities, and prohibit agriculture burning once and for all, don’t you think?
#anapneism The right to breathe clean air.