According to statistics released by the World Health Organization yesterday, the cities of Iran, Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Botswana are among the most air polluted in the world while the least polluted cities are in the US and Canada. The WHO is also active in its advocacy in urging countries and states to monitor closely their atmosphere and environment which, in effect, could pull down the level of premature deaths and morbidities.
These findings are from WHO’s latest global survey with regard to air pollution. The said survey was able to measure PM10 particle concentration in over 1,000 cities globally. These particles, with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less, can enter the bloodstream when inhaled. In effect, these can cause heart diseases, asthma, respiratory tract infections of the upper and lower airway, as well as lung cancer.
Increased levels of fine particle pollution are existent in many cities worldwide, and apart from the aggravation that power plants and motor vehicles bring about, other sources of pollution are also responsible for this. Last 2008, WHO estimated that about 1.34 million individuals died a premature death in many cities where air pollution is most common. This is a significant increase from the 2004 data which revealed about 1.15 million estimated deaths.
According to their data, the biggest contributors for outdoor air pollution in these cities are motor vehicles, small-scale manufacturing and other industries, coal-fired power plants and the burning of biomass or coal for cooking and heating.
Says Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment of the WHO, “Across the world, city air is often thick with exhaust fumes, factory smoke or soot from coal burning power plants. In many countries there are no air quality regulations and, where they do exist, national standards and their enforcement vary markedly.”
In their quality guidelines, the WHO suggested no more than 20 micrograms per cubic meter of PM10. However, in the latest figures gathered, majority of the cities exceed this certain level. According to WHO, if all cities have been faithfully following these guidelines, the number of premature deaths could be potentially cut down by at least 1 million.
WHO has even identified that the top most polluted cities have 10x greater than the maximum limit:
- In Pakistan: Lahore (200 µg/m3), Peshawar (219), Quetta (251).
- In Iran: Yasouj (215), Kermanshah (229), Sanandaj (254), Ahwaz (372).
- In India: Ludhiana (251).
- In Mongolia: the capital Ulaanbaatar (279).
- In Botswana: the capital Gabarone (216).
On the brighter side, WHO was able to identify about 400 cities whose average PM10 levels are below the mark. These cities are Whitehorse (3 µg/m3), Kitimat (4), Burns Lake (5) and Houston (5) in Canada, and Clearlake California (6) and Santa Fe, New Mexico (6) in the United States.
According to Neira, “Air pollution is a major environmental health issue and it is vital that we increase efforts to reduce the health burden it creates. If we monitor and manage the environment properly we can significantly reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and heart disease, and lung cancer.”