It’s strictly necessary, we do it without being aware and it’s probably the most frequent action that we do during our day. I’m talking about breathing. The air gets in and out of our body about 12-20 times per minute, much more for children and infants. Since we’re kids we are taught that humans, as the other animals, inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But what else is naturally present in the air? And… “unnaturally”? We often hear about air pollution and how it is damaging for our health and the environment too. And even if, thanks to new or improved technologies, the emissions of many air pollutants have decreased substantially in many industrialised countries over the past decades (resulting in improved air quality across the region), the concentrations are still too high, and air quality problems persist. A significant proportion of Europe’s population live in areas where exceedances of air quality standards occur regularly – around 90 % of city dwellers in Europe are exposed to pollutants at concentrations higher than the air quality levels deemed harmful to health – and pose serious health risks, from impairing the respiratory system to premature death!
Particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) are now generally recognised as the three pollutants that most significantly affect human health. In particular the PM, so common and widespread, very easy to produce even in many kind of household heating systems. It can be organic or mineral, most frequently artificial, but also natural. The most common origin of the particulate matter is the combustion (fuels, wood, carbon, wastes…) and it consists basically of carbon remains of this process. But it can come also from the consumption of tyres and brakes, from industrial processes or mining activities, or even from natural processes (pollens, volcanic dust and ashes, sea-salt spray, fungi mycelia are some examples). The most dangerous PM is the so called PM2.5 (up to 2.5 ) because it can reach the alveoli and gather there, affecting the respiratory and circulatory systems: it has been estimated to reduce life expectancy in the EU by more than eight months! Moreover, Benzo(a)pyrene, a by-product of combustion, is a mutagen and carcinogenic pollutant of increasing concern, with concentrations being above the threshold set to protect human health in several urban areas, especially in central and eastern Europe.
Air pollution also damages our environment. Who did never heard about acid rains? The acidification process is due to the production of sulphur dioxide (SO2) mostly in carbon or fuels burning processes, industrial treatments or household heating systems. This compound, released in the air, attracts water particles and originates rainfalls rich in sulphur acids (H2SO4) that affect soils and vegetation cover. Furthermore, winds can carry the polluted air in other places than those where the pollution come from, causing possibly geopolitical conflicts. A famous example is the one of the Ruhr region, Germany, where the extraction of coal gave birth to acid rains that affected wide areas of forest in Scandinavian countries.
Targeted efforts to reduce emissions are therefore still required to further protect human health and the environment. In Europe something is happening: EU policies aim to reduce exposure to air pollution by reducing emissions and setting limits and target values for air quality, with the long-term objective of achieving high levels of air quality. But everyone can do something to achieve this goal: move more on foot and by bike, prefer public transport to private car, use care sharing services, prefer more recent and improved household heating systems, choose “clean” energy sources… There are many ways to clear the air!
From October 14th to 26th, every day you’ll find here, and on our Facebook and Instagram pages, funny quizzes and games online to know more about environmental issues. You can play everywhere and whenever you want. Follow the anniversary!
Today the topic is… Air! Enjoy our quiz on Kahoot. What to do to play:
1. Download the free app “Kahoot!” on your smartphone or connect to the website www.kahoot.com
2. Sign up/Log in
3. Enter the PIN 0670559 or use the link here https://kahoot.it/challenge/0670559
4. Start the challenge!
Elisa, EVS volunteer from Erasmus+
(data from European Environmental Agency website www.eea.europa.eu)