Two new studies published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health have investigated the negative impact of urban air pollution on public health. Both studies highlight the urgent need to improve air quality in cities worldwide and to reduce exposure to pollution, particularly among children and the elderly.
In the first study, scientists found that 86 percent of people living in cities worldwide (approximately 2.5 billion people) are exposed to annual average levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline from 2005 by seven times. This exposure has led to 1.8 million excess deaths globally in 2019 that were caused by pollution-related illnesses such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, lung cancers, or lower respiratory infections (a staggering average of 61 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants).
“The majority of the world’s urban population still live in areas with unhealthy levels of PM2.5,” said study lead author Veronica Southerland, a doctoral student in Environmental Sciences at the George Washington University. “Avoiding the large public health burden caused by air pollution will require strategies that not only reduce emissions but also improve overall public health to reduce vulnerability.”
The second study revealed that almost two million cases of asthma in children were linked to traffic-related nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution in 2019, representing 8.5 percent of all new pediatric asthma cases reported that year. Approximately two in three of these cases occurred in urban areas.
“Our results demonstrate the important influence of combustion-related air pollution on children’s health in cities globally,” said study co-author Dr. Susan Anenberg, an associate professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University.
“In places that have effective air quality management programs, NO2 concentrations have been trending downward for decades, with benefits for children’s respiratory health. Even with these improvements, current NO2 levels contribute substantially to pediatric asthma incidence, highlighting that mitigating air pollution should be a critical element of children’s public health strategies.”
Both studies stress the dangers associated with urban air pollution and call for urgent public health measures to mitigate the impact of widespread pollutants such as PM2.5 and NO2 on the health of urban inhabitants.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer