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Blog 19 June 2024

Roundup: Air quality news June 2024

Air pollution found to be greatest environmental risk to cardiovascular diseases. Plus a new AI system for rapid air pollution forecasting and more news in our latest air quality roundup.

Air pollution is now the second leading risk factor for death worldwide (Health Effects Institute). Sharing knowledge and learning is crucial to strengthening the clean air movement. Check out the latest news articles, research, opinions and efforts to tackle air pollution around the world. 

Heart disease deaths linked to air pollution increased by 27%  

A recent World Heart Federation report identifies air pollution as “the greatest single environmental health risk,” attributing 70% of air pollution-related deaths in 2019 to cardiovascular diseases. Notably, this includes 1.9 million deaths from ischemic heart disease and 900,000 from stroke. Without effective policies, authors warn that the incidence of air pollution related cardiovascular conditions will continue to rise.  

New AI system to support rapid air pollution forecasting 

Microsoft and a team of computer scientists and research partners have developed a “cutting-edge foundation model” that can be used to make global weather and air pollution level predictions at a faster rate than traditional systems. Researchers claim that the system – called Aurora – can pick up on patterns to make predictable outcomes and serve as an early warning sign for areas about to experience dangerous levels of air pollution.  

13% reduction in asthma in children born in low emission zone 

A groundbreaking study has quantified the long-term benefits of low emissions zones for children’s health for the first time. The Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change looked at medical prescriptions for half a million newborn children living in an urban area from two years before the start of Germany’s first low emissions zone until 2017. They found a 13% reduction in prescriptions for asthma medication by a child’s fifth birthday, and revealed a significant cost reduction for the health system in this period – 92% stemming from asthma medications.  

The potential of low-cost sensor systems  

A recent report by the World Meteorological Organization spotlights the potential of low-cost sensor systems to measure air pollution, identify sources and support effective air pollution strategies. With more than 30 contributors, the report combines insights and best practice for air quality applications from around the world.  

Filling air quality data gaps in Accra’s informal settlements 

People’s Dialogue are deploying air quality sensors in three informal settlements in and around Accra, Ghana. The data will be used to inform policies to help mitigate the effects of air pollution.    

Tackling urban air pollution to reduce health inequalities 

Reducing sources of air pollution typically associated with cities, such as a roads, wood burners, machinery would benefit the most vulnerable, according to Imperial College London research. Their study in Environmental Advances looks at how different ways of meeting air quality targets could influence heath equity. To achieve this, the researchers developed a new metric called the Indicator of Exposure Bias. They paired this with the UK Integrated Assessment Model to study the effects of future emissions scenarios on air quality in England. 

135 million premature deaths worldwide attributed to air pollution in last four decades 

A comprehensive study by Nanyang Technological University of Singapore analysed data from 1980 to 2020, revealing that air pollution has cut life shorts for tens of millions of people by causing preventable or treatable diseases or strokes. A 14% increase in these deaths were attributed to the impact of climate patterns such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the Indian Ocean Dipole, and the North Atlantic Oscillation. The researchers revealed that rising temperatures, altered wind patterns, and decreased rainfall can result in stagnant air conditions and the buildup of pollutants in the atmosphere. While many similar studies focused on a narrower region or period, this study is one of the largest by far.   

Children in schools near Amsterdam airport use inhalers more  

In the Netherlands, air quality monitors were installed in three schools about a kilometre from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. After conducting weekly lung function checks with 161 schoolchildren and 19 asthmatic children living nearby, researchers found that children experienced increased wheezing with high aviation-related ultrafine particles. “On days with high aviation-related UFP, children experienced substantially more respiratory symptoms and used more symptom-relieving medication”, said Professor Gerard Hoek of Utrecht University, who led the study.  

Joined-up grassroot action to tackle air pollution in Jakarta’s urban villages  

Clean Air Catalyst, a USAID-funded project led by WRI Indonesia, facilitated a learning circle with residents of 9 kampungs (informal settlements) in and around Jakarta, Indonesia, to share lessons about the importance of air quality and monitoring. 30 residents, consisting of mostly women, joined community activists, NGO representatives and air pollution experts for two days to discuss the disproportionate health and economic impacts of air pollution, such as an increased risk of respiratory disease in marginalised communities, and their interconnection with broader urban development issues. 

Air pollution can increase cardiovascular risk for cancer patients 

While existing research recognises air pollution as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer, little to no research looks at its effects in the context of cardio-oncology or the overlap of both diseases. Addressing this gap, a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology notes that air pollution exposure impacts multiple common risk factors shared by both cancer and cardiovascular disease, including inflammatory and oxidative stress pathways. 

Car free Sundays in Bogota, Colombia 

Every Sunday, Bogota, Colombia, closes its biggest roads to cars, making room for bikes, skates and pedestrians. The weekly event was sparked by a one-day protest back in 1974 against cars taking up the streets. Now, the event covers 79 miles of streets in the city, and 1.5 million residents use the space every Sunday. PM2.5 levels remain 13 times less than normal during this time, falling in line with WHO recommendations. 

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Roundup: Air quality news May 2024

Lancet reveals leading contributor to global disease burden is air pollution. Plus cutting-edge air quality monitoring tools and low emission zone findings in our May roundup of air quality news.