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Blog 23 February 2023

Roundup: Air quality news in 2023 so far

From the rise of electric motorbikes to increasing evidence on the impact of air pollution from road traffic, here’s a round-up of the latest news and developments in the global air quality field.

Air pollution claims the lives of 6-5 million people every year globally (The Lancet). At Clean Air Fund, we know that sharing evidence and learning are crucial to supporting the clean air movement. Here, we explore the latest news, research and efforts to tackle air pollution across the world.

Cleaning up the air with electric bikes across Africa

Electric motorcycles are gaining traction across the Africa continent amid growing concerns about the health impacts of air pollution. In Kenya, AP News reports that private sector-led firms are rushing to set up charging points and battery-swapping stations to speed up the growth of cleaner transport and put the east African nation on a path toward fresher air and lower emissions.

Similarly, in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city, more and more moto taxi drivers are turning to electric motorbikes. Since the Indian manufacturer M Auto introduced its electric bikes in Benin in July 2022, there are already 2,000 on the roads; an additional 2,000 people have paid deposits and are waiting for delivery. M Auto’s chief executive, Shegun Bakari, aims to have 25,000 in circulation by the end of the year across Benin Togo, and Rwanda.

Depression linked to long term air pollution exposure

Scientists are finding more and more evidence that people who live in polluted areas have a higher risk of depression than those who live with cleaner air. Published in the JAMA Network, this study is one of the first to examine the associations between long-term exposure and the risk of depression diagnosed after age 64.

World Bank calls for regional cooperation in South Asia

Dubbed a global hotspot of air pollution, South Asia is home to 37 of the 40 most polluted cities in the world (World Bank). A recent World Bank report on air pollution in Kathmandu, Nepal, Pema Gyamtsho, finds that since air pollution travels large distances, transcending city and national boundaries, it gets trapped in large airsheds – a common geographic area where pollutants are confined, creating similar air quality for everyone. Effectively tackling air pollution in South Asia requires cooperation at the province, state, and regional levels, the report concludes.

Multiple studies point to increasing health toll of road traffic pollution

Traffic-linked air pollution exceeds WHO limits across EU capitals, a recent study has found. Although emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the European Union and the United Kingdom are on the decline, they do not meet guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation. Another study has revealed that just a few hours of exposure to traffic pollution can impair brain function. A randomised trial on 25 health adults by the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria found that exposure to diesel exhaust for just 2 hours led to changes in brain function connectivity, affecting memory and attention.

Outdoor air pollution linked to asthma attacks in children

A National Institutes Health (NIH) study revealed an association between outdoor pollutants with non-viral asthma attacks in children and teenagers living in low-income areas, in Toronto, Canada. The observational study looked at ozone and fine particulate matter, drawing a link between to the two pollutants and molecular changes.

New report reveals transformational impact of low emissions zone so far

London’s ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) reduced toxic NOx pollution by 26%, a recent study by officials at the Greater London Authority and Transport for London has revealed. Despite fears that the ULEZ simply pushes vehicles round the edge of the zone, the report reveals that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide – one of two contributors to NOx emissions – have dropped by 19%-27% compared to the projected case without the zone.

Maternal air pollution exposure puts unborn babies at risk in South Africa

Research by the South African Medical Research Council draws a link between a congenital birth anomaly – specifically orofacial cleft lip and palate (CLP) – and a mother’s exposure to air pollution during early pregnancy. Delivered in partnership with surgeons, researchers and Operation Smile, the study draws on 2,515 cases of patients with CLP from 2006 to 2020.

Air pollution speeds up bone damage

Scientists at Columbia University reveal nitrogen oxides exposure as a leading contributor to bone loss in menopausal women, particularly on lumbar spine done mineral density.

London hospital maps air pollution levels to patient’s postcodes

Great Ormond Street Hospital, UK, teamed up with Imperial College London to map air pollution levels to their patient medical records. Drawing on data collected from across the UK, the average annual pollution rates for each of the patient’s postcode are now easily available to help families understand the risk in their local area. Clinicians can compare the patient’s postcode levels to those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to explore any risk this may pose.

Artificial intelligence used to predict air quality

Engineers at Cornell University, US, developed machine learning models to estimate traffic-related particulate matter concentrations in the New York, Bronx, Kings, Queens, and Richmond counties. Funded by the US Department of Transportation, the research will enable city planners and government health officials to better determine the quality of air that urban dwellers breathe.

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