If you’ve read my bio section, been to my Instagram account, or ever spoken to me in real life, you’ll know that my current research focusses on air quality.
Why is this important?
We breathe when we sleep, we breathe when we wake up, we breathe when we work. We breathe every minute of every day. It’s estimated that we take in roughly 7-8 litres of air per minute, or 11,000 litres per day. That’s a lot of air.
For something we are exposed to so much, we give very little consideration to what we are actually breathing in. Thankfully, this is something that is changing. For the last few decades, scientists have been busily researching what is being emitted by our vehicles and our industries. In the face of a major public health crisis, governments internationally have begun taking note of our air quality and are slowly, but steadily, taking action.
Unsurprisingly, some of the world’s most polluted countries are classified as developing, due to poor energy infrastructure, polluting industries and a lack of robust policy frameworks controlling pollution. Measuring particulate matter concentrations is a well-used parameter with which to evaluate air quality. Particulate matter is a type of microscopic pollutant that constitutes a large part of emitted pollutants. They are measured in two diameters, PM2.5 and PM10, denoted in microns. As the particles are so small, they can easily get into the human body, causing cardiovascular, neurological and pulmonary issues.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation based at the University of Washington estimate that 5.5 million people die worldwide, each year, from causes directly associated with poor air quality. PM2.5 concentrations in cities such as Beijing and New Delhi can be recorded at 300 µg/m3. This is almost ten times higher than the European standard maximum limit of 25 µg/cm3.
Evidently, this is a huge problem in our developing countries, but it is also becoming a significant issue in developed countries too. London is often regarded as one of the most polluted cities in Europe. PM2.5.concentrations average greater than 18 µg/cm3 in central London, gradually decreasing to lower levels in more suburban areas. Air quality is also measured against other metrics, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur oxides (SOX) and ozone (O3).
Air pollution is a huge research area and is much bigger than what I can type in a single blog post, so I hope you’ve found this brief overview useful/informative/worrying/all of the above, and I’ll outline some causes and solutions in my next post!
Feel free to drop a comment below and let me know what you think!