As we all well know, air pollution is the result of the release of various harmful gases that negatively impact the environment, like Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate Matter (PM) and other pollutants.

In 2014, Europe had an estimated 500,000 premature deaths due to abysmal air quality, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA) in Copenhagen, Denmark. The EEA states that air pollution is the largest contributor to environmental health risks in Europe.

PM2.5, an amalgamation of tiny particulate matter known as the ‘soup’, was the biggest killer, causing a horrifying number of deaths across 41 European countries. Domestic wood burning and NO2 from vehicle exhausts racked up one fifth of the total deaths and ground-level ozone gases claimed the rest. Heart disease and stroke were the largest contributors to the premature deaths. Alzheimer’s disease, pregnancy and brain development in children were also documented to be adversely affected.

There is no single consensus, politically or otherwise, on how to prevent air pollution.

A new study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), has found that exposure to air pollution has adverse effects on the cognitive development of children. They found an association between a reduction in working memory and exposure to PM2.5 and black carbon when children are commuting from school and home. One researcher remarked that the very high concentrations of these pollutants have a disproportionally serious effect on the health of children due to their smaller lung capacities and higher respiratory rate. Statistical analysis revealed that the exposure to PM2.5 and black carbon was linked with a reduction in the advancement of working memory. However, no significant associations were found with the exposure to NO2 and none of the pollutants had any reaction to attention capacity.

What does the future of air pollution look like then? Would we have to wear N95 masks for our daily commuting and activities all the time? Would the greatest threat to humanity eventually become air pollution?

According to a statement issued by the head of the ISGlobal, they do not want to create the impression that walking or cycling is harmful to you because of the exposure of these harmful pollutants but rather that commuting in this manner far outweighs the negative impacts of air pollution as it builds physical activity into our daily routines, thus providing us with a wholesome healthy lifestyle.

Even Blue Is Bad. Source: NASA

The UK itself saw an estimated 37, 000 deaths in 2014 from exposure to PM2.5 and NO2, due to the widespread use of diesel fuels in vehicles. London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, triggered the capital’s seventh emergency air quality alert this year as levels of NO2 had sky-rocketed.

How, then, can the UK and the rest of the world turn this situation around, and improve our air quality?

Smart technology is the way to go in limiting air pollution in London such as harvesting solar energy by covering the city in photovoltaic cells (generating electrical energy using solar cells) or even capturing kinetic energy through the movement of man and machine in the city and then, the rest of the UK. Londoners are looking to the river Thames to harness its stored tidal energy. The UK and the world will need energy generated without combustion in order for us to enjoy clean air. The Head of ISGlobal has suggested the reduction in vehicles on the road could reduce pollution on home-to-school routes.

But with all these efforts and ambitions put in place, is it enough to tame the beast? With the Paris Agreement in place, will countries take up the mantle of reducing emissions in their respective countries? And with the US pulled out of that very agreement, what message does it send to the rest of the world that a powerhouse has taken the threat of climate change, that encompasses air pollution, ever so lightly?

Alzheimer’s disease, pregnancy and brain development in children were also documented to be adversely affected.

We need to realise that air is intangible; it is uncontainable and highly mobile. There is no single consensus, politically or otherwise, on how to prevent air pollution. That does not mean that we should sit by idly and watch our home be consumed by soot and smoke. We can all do our part in reducing our carbon footprint.

If you want to learn more about air pollution and just how direly we need things to change read this article where once editor Rebecca Broad discusses how London broke the air pollution limit after it was set, in a week!

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