Clean air: don’t take it for granted

By Laura Mize • Published: June 30th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For most North Americans, it’s probably hard to imagine an environment where the air is so dirty every day that it makes you sick.

But for many people throughout the world, foul air is a daily reality. Lack of government action to keep air clean and penalize polluters may be a contributing factor, while inadequate resources or knowledge to ensure healthy air may be another.

In 2012, an estimated 7 million people died as a result of unclean air, the World Health Organization reports. Heart and vascular disease, cancer and respiratory illness all can result from air pollution.

It doesn’t take a towering chimney funneling industrial fumes into the sky to cause illness. The W-H-O says indoor air pollution was linked to more deaths in 2012 than outdoor smog. That’s because many families living in poor areas cook indoors over open flames without adequate ventilation. Old stoves that leak smoke into homes are problems, too.

Outdoor air pollution also took a big toll on people’s health. Energy production, transportation and manufacturing can contribute to outdoor air pollution.

The W-H-O identifies the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia as the worst places on Earth for air pollution of both kinds. Rapid population growth and modernization in Asia have made outdoor air quality a nightmare in many places. Coal burned in factories and power plants and exhaust from vehicles are the major pollution problems for China. The nation is known as one of the world’s worst air offenders.

Through regulation and innovation, Asia and other areas plagued by pollution can improve air quality for people who live there and for all of us. People who do live with relatively clean air shouldn’t take it for granted. The air we breathe will only be as clean as our society keeps it.