Pollution warning as world looks to clean air day

As the United Nations gets set to mark International Day of Clean Air for blue skies a new study warns there is rising inequality when it comes to the ability for people to breathe fresh air.

Greenpeace India has warned even though air pollution is a universal health problem that affects everyone on this planet, the risks are not evenly distributed amongst the population with some groups of people at greater risk of harm.

Its report “Different Air Under One Sky: The Inequity Air Research” investigated air pollution in seven countries by assessing their peoples’ access to air quality monitoring stations and the exposure to air pollution experienced by vulnerable groups of people.

It warned that air pollution is the greatest environmental risk factor for human health but the report highlights examples where groups known to be particularly at risk from air pollution including infants, the over 65s and pregnant people are more likely to be exposed to high pollutant concentrations or have less access to local air quality data when compared to the total population.

The study added over 99% of the population of the countries included in this research, which makes up more than a quarter of the world’s population, were breathing air that exceeds WHO health-based guidelines with respect to PM2.5.

India has one of the worst air quality levels with the greatest proportion of people exposed to PM2.5 concentrations, more than five times the WHO annual average guideline. In India, more pregnant people lived in the most polluted category when compared with the entire population. In Thailand, infants and older adults are more likely to live in places where annual mean PM2.5 concentrations are more than 5 times the WHO guideline.

Greenpeace India campaign manager, Avinash Chanchal said: The findings of this report are eye-opening. Considering the size of India, the number of air quality monitoring stations is shockingly low. The real-time information about the quality of the air we are breathing is the first step to solving this problem. This is high time for the government to introduce a robust air quality monitoring system across the country and make the data publicly available in real-time. This should be coupled with a health advisory and ‘red alerts’ for bad-air days so that the public is able to take necessary steps to protect their health and polluters could be required to reduce emissions to protect the environment.”

In most of the countries researched, over half of the total population had no access to an air quality station within 25 km. In India, 70% of the total population were not covered by an air quality station within 25 km.

Greenpeace Global Air Pollution Unit senior campaigner Yung-Jen Chen added: “The availability of air pollution data and access to clean air is an issue of equity where the most at risk have the greatest need and the greatest potential benefit. Everyone has a right to clean air and a healthy environment. Government interventions and policies for clean air governance are urgent and critical matters to secure these basic human rights.”