Air Quality Awareness week: Everything you need to know
If you are already concerned about the quality of the air we breathe and environmental pollution, Air Quality Awareness Week may be a familiar event. For those who are hearing this for the first time, Air Quality Awareness Week is dedicated to educating the public about the relationship between the quality of air we breathe and its effect on our health. In 2016, it will be in the week starting Monday, May 2nd – Friday, May 6th.
Smog Alarm! Why is Air Quality Awareness Week important?
According to the World Health Organization, there were 7million deaths in 2012 attributed to air pollution. That is corresponds to 1 in 8 deaths globally. Reducing air pollution would save millions of lives.
The main illnesses highlighted by the WHO as a result of air pollution are:
- Cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease
- Respiratory infections including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Of particular concern are the following elements of air pollution:
- particulate matter (PM)
- ozone (O3)
- nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and
- sulfur dioxide (SO2), in all WHO regions.
According to the WHO, outdoor air pollution was responsible for an estimated 3.7 million premature deaths in 2012.
Ischaemic heart disease and strokes accounted for an estimated 80% of outdoor air pollution-related premature deaths. 14% of the deaths were thought to result from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or acute lower respiratory infections. 6% were from lung cancer.
Policy changes will have great benefits if they reduce outdoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution also presents a serious health risk, responsible for some 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012. Poor families often fall victim to indoor air pollution as they spend much time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood stoves. Little children in particular are at high risk of acute respiratory infections due to indoor air pollution.
How air pollution affects health?
One effect of air pollutants is an increase in free radicals in the body, leading to oxidative stress. The result is endothelial dysfunction, vasoconstriction, increased blood pressure, systemic inflammations, and the progression of atherosclerosis, among others.
Epidemiological studies have shown increased risk for cardiovascular illnesses and cancers due to exposure to particulate matter of 10 microns or less in diameter (PM10). Even at the tiniest concentrations, small particulate pollution has an adverse impact on health.
Ground-level ozone, major constituent of smog which is formed when nitrogen oxides and other volatile compounds from cars and industries react with sunlight, can cause breathing problems, induce asthma, and cause lung diseases.
A 4% increase in 10 µg/m3 ozone exposure causes a daily mortality rise of 0.3%
How to best manage the risk of air pollution-related health hazards?
It would be unfair to accuse only big manufacturers for air pollution. We as individuals also have a role to play. There are many steps we can take to reduce our individual energy consumption. From simple things like switching off lights when rooms are not in use, to taking the bike to work rather than a car.
Even though our bodies have natural protective mechanisms against free radicals and oxidative stress, our polluted environment makes it necessary to increase our antioxidant intake through fresh fruits, vegetables and supplements.
Plant antioxidants, for example flavonoids, help neutralize free radicals, reduce oxidative stress and hence protect the cardiovascular system from damage.
Berries are very good sources of antioxidants. Black Elderberry (preferably the Haschberg variety), French blackcurrants and aronia berries in particular, are some of the most potent sources of antioxidants.
A special case has to be made for black elderberry, because it packs a double punch. Not only is black elderberry an excellent source of antioxidants, it is also a traditional remedy against upper respiratory infections. It is available as a juice, soluble powder, in capsules and lozenges.
If the numbers released by the WHO teach us anything, then it is that we must take air pollution more seriously than we´ve done in the past. Protecting our loved ones from the drastic health consequences of air pollution is priority, and we must be prepared to make individual and collective sacrifices to that end.