Living in pollution

Last week I took the time from my Editor and followed the Editorial with an overview on the impact of dust on the houses and lives of residents, impacted by the construction activities occurring near their homes. This week I will continue with that theme, in support of the just launched Occupational Safety and Health Week of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

One issue that I highlighted was the fact that unless definitive steps were taken by the construction industry and Government to manage air pollution sources, the quality of life for affected residents would continue to deteriorate, while the related healthcare costs would escalate. Air pollution is undoubtedly the most problematic of all types of pollution that may contribute to serious long-term health effects.

The most dangerous reality of air pollution is the fact that all life (plant and animal) can be, and is exposed, and all life must exist in an air filled environment. Even marine life can be affected by poor air quality.

The choice to breathe or not to breathe polluted air is not within the grasp of living creatures, and therefore whatever negatively impacts the air quality also impacts the personal ambient environment of all life. We are all living in a man-made polluted environment.

Additionally, many air pollutants can travel long distances from their original source, and still be of risk to your health, due to the fact that they are in concentrations below the threshold of smell. However, that does not change the fact that you are still breathing polluted air. You may not smell it but its still there!

Over long periods, even low concentrations of contaminants in air may have devastating health effects, and the most exposed of persons are the people working and living in polluted air environments e.g., manufacturing industries operating in buildings generating pollutants indoors air but expelled by air extractors into the adjacent environments including residential neighbourhoods.

Additionally, all cities contribute to poor air quality due to constant vehicular traffic on its streets, which is a reality of a country’s growth. Smog is a reality all over the world, directly affecting outdoor air quality, with the potential to affect large numbers of people.

Poor indoor air quality comes from many sources. It can lead to suffering from lung diseases such as asthma. It can also cause headaches, dry eyes, nasal mucus, nausea and tiredness. People who already have lung problems have a greater chance of having these symptoms.

Common Indoor Air Pollutants include:

* Molds (supported by unchecked moisture buildup on walls, ceilings and wardrobes)

* Pollen (plant life)

* Dander from pet fur (pets sleeping and sharing beds)

* Secondhand smoke (tobacco)

* Formaldehyde (lumber)

* Fumes emitted by imported drywall and other housing construction materials

* Carbon monoxide that comes from burning propane, other gases and fuels, and charcoal

* Household products such as cleaners and pesticides.

There are two main types of air pollutants, gases and particulate matter (tiny solid particles suspended in air such as dust particles). What must also be considered is that although air pollutants enter your body primarily through the respiratory tract and lungs, they may also enter via the food and drink that all life consumes; thereby absorbed in the bloodstream and ultimately affecting other body parts and organs.

Smoke produced from burning debris after natural disasters is another factor that also affects after impact air quality. Smoke as a pollutant can cause shortness of breath or tightness in the chest, or coughing. It also can sting your eyes, nose, or throat. Smoke from wildfires, brush, cane fields, burning trees, and plant materials is a mixture of gases and fine particles.

Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death, is found in combustion fumes produced by cars and trucks, generators, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, gas ranges, and heating systems.

According to medical authorities and occupational disease specialists, the effects of air pollution directly relate to a variety of illnesses, from the simple irritation of eyes, nose mouth and throat or reduced energy levels, headache and dizziness, to more serious documented health conditions including:

* Asthma attacks

* Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

* Reduced lung function

* Pulmonary cancer – caused by a series of carcinogen chemicals that occur through inhalation

* Mesothelioma – a particular type of lung cancer, associated with exposure to asbestos (occuring 20-30 years after the initial exposure)

* Pneumonia

* Leukemia – a sort of blood cancer usually associated to exposure of benzene vapors (through inhalation)

* Birth defects and immune system defects

* Cardiovascular problems, heart diseases and stroke (an increased risk especially due to particulate matter)

* Neurobehavioral disorders – neurological problems and developmental deficits due to air toxins such as mercury (which is the only volatile metal in elemental form)

* Liver and other types of cancer – caused by breathing carcinogenic volatile chemicals

Time Magazine’s Senior Editor Bryan Walsh reviewed a 2011 report by the World Health Organisation that looked at urban air pollution around the world. Walsh wrote that the WHO Report stated that the most polluted cities appeared to be found in developing countries.

It suggested that poorer countries tend to have dirtier cars, factories and power plants, and rarely have or enforce the kind of environmental regulations that have become common in the developed world. It also suggested that the urban areas with the worst air were not the big cities like Beijing, Chongqing, Bangkok, Mexico City; but were in fact were smaller cities, many of them in Iran or South Asia, and were not considered to be economic powers.

The report listed the following as among the worst;

1. Ahwaz, Iran 2. Ulan Bator, Mongolia 3. Sanadaj, Iran 4. Ludhiana, India 5. Quetta, Pakistan 6. Kermanshah, Iran 7. Peshawar, Pakistan 8. Gaberone, Botswana 9. Yasouj, Iran 10. Kanpor, India

We are all at risk of being affected by poor air quality, and the fact that environmental management legislation in the Caribbean has not kept pace with the levels of infrastructural development also contributes to the impact of poor air quality on the region’s residents.

What is further disturbing is the fact that the entire region continues to promote tourism on a massive scale; governments promote tourism as the major economic contributor in the region, and as such devotes major capital expenditures to tourism development. However, the environmental managerial systems required to maintain high air quality for both visitors and residents alike are still not on-par with the tourism promotional campaigns in place to attract regional visitors.

Again, the questions, which in my opinion are still the most appropriate, are once more asked: How much longer will this situation be allowed to continue before governments introduce comprehensive legislation to manage this problem? What will be required to convince the government of the day that poor air quality standards will eventually detrimentally impact the very important tourism industry?”

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