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It helps reduce air pollution and it makes people’s lives healthier, too.
In recent decades, society has come to realise that exploiting Earth’s precious resources to support a consumerist lifestyle is unsustainable. Refusing to change could place future generations at risk of an exceptionally poor quality of life (and even extinction) due to exorbitant levels of air, water, and soil pollution, and extreme climate changes due to global warming. The increasingly polluted state of our planet means that creative, environmentally friendly engineering solutions are more necessary, and in greater demand, than ever.
Fortunately humankind is innovative, creative, and capable of applying existing knowledge in new ways. This is exactly what environmental engineers do – they use their existing knowledge and specialised engineering training to research, develop, and implement solutions to environmental problems. These solutions are ultimately designed to protect people and ecosystems from harm, and to enhance quality of life. Their unique training in fields such as chemistry, biology, soil science and environmental studies, allows them to conceptualise eco-friendly engineering solutions for the 21st Century world. Many universities have even started offering specialised engineering programmes with an environmental or sustainability-oriented focus. Some engineering fields closely related to environmental engineering include:
- Geophysical engineering
- Water resources engineering
- Coastal engineering
- Marine engineering
- Ecological engineering
The main focus in environmental engineering is to implement engineering solutions that reduce pollution, minimise environmental impact, reduce energy and fresh water dependence, and promote public health and safety. For example, an engineering project to design and construct a wind-powered office building from local recycled and renewable materials with geothermal heating and grey-water plumbing could fall into an environmental engineer’s scope of work.
Environmental engineers can work in a variety of private or government settings, depending on their specialisation and interests. Some work in laboratories or offices to conduct research and draft proposals, while others work on-site to implement solutions. Due to the multifaceted nature of environmentally friendly engineering solutions, they often work in project teams comprised of experts from various industries and specialisations. They might collaborate with legal and business experts, urban and regional planners, scientists, conservationists, and hazardous waste technicians to name a few.
A few examples of projects that environmental engineers could work on include:
- Developing solutions for safe drinking water in communities
- Improving waste disposal practices in manufacturing industries
- Designing towns and cities to optimise clean energy and recycled water use
- Engineering transport that runs of clean energy sources
- Designing and constructing eco-friendly buildings (homes, offices, hotels and public buildings)
- Developing environmentally-friendly agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and equipment
- Working with companies to develop environmentally friendly products, packaging and services.
- Conducting research on soil, air, and water pollution in specific regions.
- Conducting environmental impact assessments for proposed construction and agricultural projects.
- Advising businesses and governments on environmental and sustainability-related matters.
Environmental engineering is a diverse, rapidly-growing field that can serve to create a healthier, safer future for all. If you’re looking for some inspiration, or want to obtain a better understanding of what these engineers can achieve, read this article that features 10 amazing eco-friendly constructions across the globe.
Keywords: Environmental engineers, engineering, environment
Environmental Resources Management (ERM) is a company which specialises in providing consulting services to large companies (both private and government) to enable them to better manage and understand their impact on society and the environment. ERM has provided invaluable services to many Fortune 500 companies within the fields of health, safety, risk and environmental impact. Sustainability is a main focus of ERM as in each of their many areas of consulting, innovative solutions are used to address the many challenges faced by their clients in industries such as mining, energy, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.
The consulting services provided to these industries all assist companies to achieve their targets whilst safeguarding against negative environmental and social impacts. Many of the largest companies in the world require such services to reduce their impact on global warming. Whilst these companies may have their own strategies to meet performance and operational goals, these may not best solve or adhere to the standards of cultural and environmental challenges – this is where ERM comes in.
Sustainability has been a core service at ERM for the past 40 years and as such their experience allows companies fortify their commitments to socioeconomic factors, environmental regulations, and future generations through the implementation of the most efficient practices. Although this may cover specific mechanical processes, ERM covers efficiency otherwise at a granular level through:
- Enhanced employee and stakeholder engagement;
- Smarter innovation;
- Greater cost control;
- Increased investor confidence
- Improved agility
Other services focused on health and safety allows businesses to make smarter decisions regarding the well-being of their employees and customers. Analysts and behavioural scientists are often used to confirm that safety standards are met, risks are averted, and health is considered in all facilities and workplaces.
The recommendations based on safety and risk are of particular importance in industries involving dangerous machinery. Oil and gas industries require assistance with the implementation of new green technologies, low-emission operations and the ethical removal of waste. Similarly, energy companies receive recommendations and advice on site selection, compliance with environmental policies and the management of renewable technologies.
ERM is not limited to just environmental consultation but also has the capacity to advise on mergers, divestitures, crisis management, supply chain issues, privacy and cybersecurity.Some of the largest companies assisted by ERM are Shell, World Bank, Unilever, the UK government, Procter and Gamble, Ford and Eurostar.
Climate change is a fast-growing and unavoidable threat to the planet; with the global temperature rising on average by 0.8◦C in the last 100 years1, the severe warming of the earth is responsible for the critical, and soon-to-be irreversible changes to our environment. These harsh effects of the increasing temperatures are most intensely experienced in coastal regions – rising sea levels not only erode the shoreline but are responsible for more volatile and dangerous weather conditions.
As more and more fossil fuels are burnt, the resulting carbon emissions pollute the atmosphere with more greenhouse gases than the planet can accommodate. Heat from the sun, instead of escaping the atmosphere, is trapped by these gases and in turn warms the earth. The most immediate and noticeable effect of the increased temperature is the melting of the ice caps which contribute to higher sea-levels (a predicted increase of two metres within the next 100 years) and thereby diminish coastal regions. As the coast gradually decreases, the probability of powerful storms and inundations rises, the worst of which will be experienced in coastal cities.
Floods are worsened by land which is already drought-stricken; as temperatures rise, more water evaporates from the soil, impeding its ability to absorb water. Thus, when met by flood waters, there is little to slow the water from moving farther inland. Whilst current wave heights may seem benign, without intervention this figure could increase to as much as 100 metres, causing massive damage to structures along the coast.
These threats motivate the implementation of measures to reduce, or at least slow, the effects of climate change on urban areas along the coast. Unfortunately, scientists have proven these to be more damaging to the environment than helpful. Protective structures such as seawalls and jetties accelerate beach erosion – fast waves rebound from these structures with a larger force than that of regular beaches and consequently wash larger amounts of sand away. Development along the coast, coupled with these protective structures further inhibits the abilities of natural systems to respond and adapt to these changes in the climate.
The drastic and punishing effects that our modern society has on our planet are worsening, with coastal areas receiving the most extreme effects first. Longer, warmer summers and reduced rainfall are not conducive to a healthy ecosystem and therefore, it is with great urgency that everyone helps to revert the damage already done. For more information on how you can reduce your impact on climate change visit this great, and illuminating website.
Recent reports have revealed that the number of power plants constructed (either by the commencement or completion of building) each year is rapidly decreasing. Further, the number of active plants which are being retired is increasing both in South Africa and internationally. Coal power plants are being phased out (and at a rate higher than predicted) as the financial burden of maintaining these plants can no longer be justified when compared to greener alternatives. Similarly, the urgency of keeping total global warming below the 2-degree limit to prevent environmental disasters has motivated the shift towards renewable energies (such as wind and solar) in most countries participating in the Paris Climate Accord.
Despite growing concerns from scientists of alarming levels of air pollution and even though plants are closing down, emissions from coal plants won’t be decreasing anytime soon. Toxic emissions from these plants are a major contributor to global warming and have been proven to directly cause multiple health risks, and yet they continue to operate. For many third world countries in south and south-east Asia, non-renewable energy is a pillar of their economy and is responsible for crucial economic growth. Additionally, for countries rich in fossil fuels, it is more economical to satisfy their energy demands with coal. China, for example, through many multi-billion-dollar investments, has initiated a new coal-era. China is responsible for 45% of the coal-based electricity generated in the world as well as contributing roughly a third to the increased global emissions seen in 2018.
The main pollutants produced by these plants are:
- Mercury, a highly poisonous heavy metal which is unsafe in the smallest doses. Mercury can be found as a vapour in polluted air and dissolved into rivers and lakes, thereby contaminating humans and animals.
- Sulphur dioxide, a small particle that, in addition to contributing acid rain and crop damage, can cause asthma and bronchitis when embedded in human lungs.
- Nitrogen oxides, most commonly recognised as smog, are linked to respiratory diseases, pneumonia and influenza.
- Particulate matter, the complex mixture of solid and liquid particles such as dust, smoke and soot, is very dangerous for humans and animals alike, having been linked to heart disease and premature deaths.
Renewable energy, meanwhile, emits none of these hazardous chemicals and has now been shown to be more cost-effective than coal plants. When solar and wind technologies were still in their early phases, the cost of installation and development frequently outweighed the benefit of the clean energy produced. Now that clean energy technology has advanced, the costs involved have fallen drastically. As a result, renewable energy is on the rise and accounts for 17% of the US energy generation. New reports have shown that even when accounting for the cost of installing solar or wind farms, the costs of generating energy are far below those of coal power plants. The large quantities of fossil fuels (the price of which can fluctuate) required by coal plants only compounds their maintenance and operational costs making them more expensive to run.
It is critical that the energy produced globally is clean to slow the increasingly damaging effects of global warming. Regardless of the benefits of renewable energy (both financial and environmental) and the commitment of regions like Hawaii and California to 100% renewable energy, many countries worldwide shall continue to burn fossil fuel, with emission levels predicted to remain the same until 2050.
Recently at a conference in Cape Town we met an industry expert, Paul. He worked for the company Yellow Tree, as an air pollution specialist. His insight into his country’s air pollution was astounding – we couldn’t believe how far they had come in such a short space of time (the company has only been operating for five years, and are booming!).
We chatted for a long time over lunch, and after the end of the conference realised that both us in Florida and abroad there is much room to do to clean up our collective industry’s act. Air pollution abounds in likely every country with a population of more than 200,000 (one can surely assume a little state like Nauru surely doesn’t emit much) and urgent action is needed. It feels like the oceans are given a lot of attention about their sea level and their temperature – and well they should! – but when do we start looking up and seeing the “dirt” in the sky? We know that in cities air pollution is a major problem, but only when it directly affects those in the street do we seem to take notice. What about when it enters the atmosphere and harms the ozone layer, or other affects we are yet to learn about?
I’d for one venture a guess that it’s another ticking time bomb among our many global environmental issues. One that we also cannot afford to let go off.
1994 was a year of untold horror for the small East African country of Rwanda. Three months of genocide irreversibly scarred that nation and, in the eyes of the world, the nation was beyond any turnaround. How could a country ripped apart by ethnic violence, division and economic destruction ever come alongside the international community in any meaningful way? Enter Paul Kagame. 2018 African of the Year, Paul Kagame and his government have, over the last few decades, facilitated one of the most remarkable national turnarounds of our time. As Paul Kagame settles into a third term, let’s consider some of the factors that make the nation of Rwanda an example to the rest of Africa.
One of the ways that Rwanda is leading the rest of Africa is with a strong leadership committed to their national interest. This begins at the top, with the figure of President Paul Kagame. President Kagame, aged just 36, came to power at the end of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide as the head of the RPF, the military movement which seized control of the nation, bringing to an end over three months of widespread killing. President Kagame has been described as a strong authoritarian leader running his nation with almost military discipline. Under his leadership, a new and diverse range of Rwandan politicians has developed. Of particular interest is the prominence of women in government in Rwanda. Rwanda has one if the highest percentage of women Members of Parliament of any nation in the world. In Rwanda, 64% of MP’s are women, in contrast to the global average of only 22%. In this way, Rwanda is leading Africa towards a more balanced and equal distribution of political leadership under President Kagame.
President Kagame has also proved to have an iron fist when it comes to stamping out corruption which has led to the Rwandan economy becoming an attractive investment proposition. Consequently, the Rwandan economy has grown at an astonishing rate of between 7-8% over the last two decades. In 2017-2018, the economy grew by 8.9%. Through its strong anti-corruption policy as well as its streamlined administration and tax infrastructure, Rwanda has been recognised as the second-easiest country in Africa to do business in by the World Bank. In this way, the nation serves as a model to other developing economies on the African continent. Despite attracting enormous foreign investment, Rwanda has continued to focus on internal growth by using policy to facilitate the strengthening of local industry and production. Over the last two decades, the country increased the domestic funding of its budget from 36% up to 84%. It has reduced its reliance on outside help in this by way of a continuous commitment to diversification and modernisation of its exporting, manufacturing and IT industries. It also continues to position itself as a tourist destination. Arsenal fans may be familiar with the ‘Visit Rwanda’ logo on the team’s kit sleeve. This was sponsored by the Rwandan government, with Arsenal being President Kagame’s favourite team.
Visitors to Kigali will also be struck by Rwanda’s commitment to cleanliness and environmental practices. Rwanda has banned plastic bags since 2006, putting to shame not only African neighbours but even the global community at large. This policy has been put forward by organisations like Plastic Oceans as a sustainable policy that should be implemented internationally
It is areas such as this, as well as in its economic policy and governmental leadership that Rwanda has provided a leading example to its African neighbours, and all in this in the face of terrific adversity and the dragging weight of a horrific history.
The Clean Air Act is an air pollution control bill that,when passed in 50 years ago, was revolutionary for its time as it introduced environmental protection legislation that had never before been considered. Despite resistance from industries concerned that the bill would impede their production levels and profits, the bill was passed unanimously by the American Congress.
Throughout the ’60s, public concern for the environment grew at a rapid pace while the quality of the air and water in American cities was worsening dramatically. As tensions rose between environmentalists and major polluting businesses, it became clear that federal action would be required to control emissions. Consequently, the Clean Air Act was drafted using scientific measures uninfluenced by politics and economics to address air pollution.
The Act established standards which not only forced businesses to make use of the most efficient technology to reduce their emissions, but supported lawsuits brought against those companies which disregarded the environment. This was achieved through the following components:
- the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS),
- State Implementation Plans (SIPs),
- New Source Performance Standards (NSPS),
- and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs)
Amendments were made to the act to extend deadlines (to reduce emissions) that had not yet been met and to introduce further standards for new technology and developments in the environment.
The most important regulation of the Act are the NAAQS (pronounced “knacks”) which regulate emissions from stationary and mobile sources to address health risks in each state. NAAQS are implemented by both major sources (stationary sources that emit up to 10 tonnes or more of a hazardous pollutant or 25 tonnes of a combination of pollutants each year) and area sources (stationary sources which emit less than major sources). Since the bill was passed in 1970, major reductions in ground-level ozone (responsible for many harmful respiratory diseases) have been recorded in addition to a 92% decrease in lead pollution. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that much progress has been made in improving American air quality even though energy consumption and distances driven by Americans has increased since 1990. Despite concerns from large industries, the Clean Air Act has not diminished their growth and as a result, the economy has not suffered.
The Clean Air Act is a critical piece of legislation which has had a large positive effect on the reduction of hazardous emissions which, as a result of a $500 billion investment into meeting the standards enforced by the act, has saved the lives of an estimated 200,000 people equating to economic savings of $50 trillion.
The declining quality of air in the world is a growing global concern. As more and more countries take action against air pollution, one may wonder why it is such an important issue; this is because air pollution not only affects our health but it also affects the planet, meaning that today’s pollution could be felt in future generations, putting humanity as a whole in danger.
In people, air pollution leads to many health issues. The breathing of polluted air puts people at a higher risk of multiple respiratory diseases like asthma. Exposure to ground-level ozone for periods of six to seven hours has been proven to decrease lung function and cause inflammation in the lungs. Cancer is also among the effects of air pollution in people as most pollutants happen to be carcinogens. In cities, coughing and wheezing have been observed as symptoms of air pollution. The damage sustained by the body does not only affect the lungs but also the immune, endocrine and reproductive systems. High levels of particle pollution have also been associated with higher incidents of heart problems. Strokes are also a known result of air pollution according to the World Health Organization. All forms of pollution have some effect on humanity. This article shows the varying effects that the various kinds of pollution have on people.
Smog and soot are the most visible effects of air pollution on the environment. They are a result of particulate matter, from the combustion of fossil fuels, reacting with sunlight. In the United States of America “pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70 percent” according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act. Other than reducing visibility, smog also known as ground-level ozone, can dramatically affect weather patterns in extreme cases like the Asian Brown Cloud which delays the annual monsoon further and further every year.
Greenhouse gasses are another by-product of the use of fossil fuels, as a majority of greenhouse gas is made up of carbon dioxide with the remainder consisting of methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and other various gasses. Methane comes from natural sources such as the keeping of livestock, mainly cattle, and industrial sources – mostly the drilling for oil and gas. Hydrofluorocarbons also appear as the result of industrial actions, namely the air-conditioning and refrigeration industries. These gasses are dangerous as they trap heat within the atmosphere leading to a rise in global temperatures, resulting in higher sea levels with the increased melting of polar ice caps, odd weather like increased heat waves, droughts etc. These then all then affect humans on a large scale through famines and reduced agricultural production in some parts of the world which in turn reduces economic activity, increasing poverty and overall population health.
Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, commonly found in aerosol cans, and hydro chlorofluorocarbons affect the environment in one of the most heinous ways; they deplete the ozone layer. This is bad because the ozone layer protects us from harmful rays from the Sun such as UV rays which are known to cause skin and eye problems as well as affect crops. This leaves many who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle at high risk of health issues further on in life such as young children who enjoy playing outside.
Nitrogen and sulphur in the air also adversely affect the environment and wildlife through acid rain and eutrophication. Eutrophication is when there are excessive amounts of nitrogen in a body of water which causes a dense growth of plant life; the decomposition of the plants depletes the supply of oxygen, leading to the death of animal life. Algae forms on the surface of bodies of water blocking sunlight and killing the underwater plant life as well. Acid rain comes about from chemical reactions with sulphur and/or nitrogen and rain clouds. The falling droplets then damage buildings, plants and even soil, reducing its fertility and fitness as a habitat for living organisms.
Air pollution is clearly a large issue that affects everyone and as such every person should make an effort to reduce air pollution and make sure our planet is still inhabitable for future generations.
Singapore is a small island country in Asia that is known not only for its amazing architecture but also its dedication to being as environmentally friendly as possible. The Singapore Green Plan is how the Island nation’s government displays its commitment to keeping the country green. Singapore’s efforts to clean up their environment actually go back further than 1992, when the first Green Plan was released, all the way to the late 60s. In an age of increasing environmental consciousness, they appear to be leading the pack.
The Singapore Green Plan outlines the targets that Singapore aspired to reach by 2012 set in 2002 in six focus areas:
- Air and Climate Change
- Waste management
- Conserving nature
- Public health
- International environmental relations
The purpose for the greening policy is to create a model for sustainable growth which does not compromise Singapore’s ecosystem. Due to its small size, high density development is employed; which would leave little room for gardens and natural plant life… or so one would think. Greenery lost to development is quickly replaced in high-rise gardens like those on the 26th and 50th floors of the [email protected], which is Singapore’s (and the world’s) tallest public housing development. The Marina Bay in Singapore houses one of the largest freshwater city resevoirs in the world with 250 acres set aside for the gardens by the bay; which serve as a “green lung” for the city according to Cheon Koon Hean, the first woman to lead Singapore’s urban development agency, in an interview with National Geographic.
Public health is maintained through the provision of affordable housing, which costs around 20 to 25 percent of income, and the option of public rental. This has resulted in over 80 percent of the population being housed. Instances of food-bourne and vector-bourne diseases have remained low, with an average of 2.8 cases out of 1000 food outlets between 2006 and 2008. Over 30 percent of Singapore’s water demand is met from non-conventional sources like NEWater since 2010.
Singapore is undoubtedly a leader in terms of eco-friendly living, especially since further goals have been set like the greening of 80 percent of its buildings by 2030. Their Green Plans are effective and the government has no plans of slowing down.
The United States of America have seen worsening weather conditions as years go along. From horrific storms like Hurricane Katrina to having regular occurrences of wildfires every year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine what “normal” weather actually is. 2018 in particular was filled with lots of unusual weather phenomena.
The jet stream is a high-speed high-altitude airstream blowing from west to east near the top of the troposphere which has important effects on the formation of weather fronts. A southern dip in jet stream resulted in record cold in the East of the United States in the first week of January 2018. The state of New York recorded a record low of 16.4 degrees Fahrenheit, smashing the previous record of 21.4 degrees Fahrenheit for the first seven days of the year.
Another rare occurrence that happened in January 2018 was the appearance of snow in all fifty of the United States of America on the 17th. The falling of snow everywhere from sunny California all the way to picturesque Hawaii was a gift from Winter Storm Inga which added to the snow and sleet content on the ground in the East and South, with the rest of the U.S. already experiencing snowfall. The last time the states experienced snow coverage on this scale was on the 12th of February 2010.
Winter Storm Grayson brought snowflakes to the Florida panhandle for the first time since 1989, and the first January snowfall since 1885. Georgia got six inches of snow whilst Charleston and South Carolina got over five inches.
April 2018 saw the coldest temperatures of all time for the two American states of (). It was actually the coldest April in the United States of America in twenty-one years. What makes it stranger is the fact that it was followed by the hottest May in recorded history for the United States according to the National Weather Service. May 2018 was actually hotter than the Dust Bowl era in the 1930s when the United States experienced severe dust storms
Drastic weather changes have been linked to climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States have expressed the need for urgency when it comes to taking care of the environment.
Have you ever gazed out at your local city or town only to see its buildings blanketed by a thick layer of smog? ‘Smog’ is a word that is made by combining the words ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’ and is often used to describe the layer of air pollution visible to the human eye. Visible air pollution, however, makes up only a small portion of the total air pollution present in our modern world.
A 2008 Blacksmith Institute Report listed air pollution, and poor urban air quality, as two of the world’s worst toxic pollution problems. With air pollution, there is more than meets the eye; microscopic particles can be too small for an eye to see but it is precisely because of their small size that they affect humans. Air pollution can enter through the nose and mouth virtually undetected making it one of the most dangerous forms of pollution.
Pollution is often distinguished based on its origins. Some air pollution occurs naturally as the result of biological processes or volcanic explosions, while other types of air pollution occur as a result of human development. Instances of air pollution caused by humans include the emissions that come from factories, cars and cigarette smoke. These human-produced sources of air pollution are sometimes called anthropogenic sources. Most of this air pollution consists of microscopic particles that cannot be seen but can result in adverse health effects.
Some major air pollutants include Carbon Dioxide, Sulphur Oxides, Nitrogen Oxides and Carbon Monoxides. These pollutants enter the human body through inhalation and can result in numerous ill-effects linked closely to the respiratory system such as irritation, coughing, bronchitis, wheezing and asthma. Long-term exposure to harmful air pollution can even lead to conditions such as lung cancer and respiratory diseases like emphysema.
A recent article by the Guardian newspaper, published this March, cites research placing the number of premature deaths resulting from air pollution at around 8.8 million. Of these, almost a third of the premature deaths occurred in the Western Pacific region, which is also home to one-quarter of the world’s population. India and China are two nations with particularly high levels of air pollution, and as a consequence a higher percentage of premature deaths resulting from asthma. The same article noted that air pollution now causes more deaths per year than tobacco smoking.
Babies and young children are particularly at risk of air pollution as a result of their respiratory systems not yet being fully mature. Furthermore, the health issues that these air pollutants create puts further pressure on public and private health systems leading to ever-increasing financial burdens. This affects all humans and nations in an indirect and delayed economic manner. The situation has become so serious that in 2018 the World Health Organisation (WHO) held its first Global conference on Air pollution and Health in Geneva. This is part of a larger commitment in its part to raise awareness about the continued danger that air pollution is beginning to pose to humans.
WHO makes the following suggestions as to ways to limit your personal intake of air pollution. It suggests that you limit the amount of traffic air you are breathing in, either by not walking on busy streets during rush hour or spending less time at traffic hotspots. The organisation also recommends exercising in less polluted areas, and not burning waste because the smoke poses a dangerous health risk.
Sadly, air pollution and its effect on humans may become something that we all need to get used to in the future.
Good air quality is essential to human health. Regularly breathing in high quality air means a decreased risk of respiratory infections, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases and lung cancer. Specifically, when air contains low concentrations of particulate matter (PM), which consists of a mixture of sulfate, ammonia, nitrates, sodium chloride, black carbon, and mineral dust, humans are less likely to suffer from the aforementioned ailments.
PM2.5 is particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less (to put this in perspective, a typical human hair ranges between 30-100 microns in width). PM2.5 is particularly dangerous to human health, as the particles are so small that they can penetrate the lung barrier and enter into the bloodstream. As such, for optimum health it is important to avoid prolonged exposure to PM2.5. The Word Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for acceptable annual mean PM2.5 measurements is 10 μg/m3 or less.
We wanted to find out which countries enjoyed the best air quality, so we accessed the 2018 edition of the WHO Global Ambient Air Quality Database. (This database consolidates annual mean PM2.5 and PM₁₀ measurements for over 2600 cities and towns across the globe). We sorted the database by country and calculated the average PM2.5 scores for all the countries with the majority of their cities listed as having PM2.5 scores under 18 μg/m3. Here are the top 5 countries with the best air quality:
- 1. Estonia
With an average PM2.5 of only 5.00, Estonia comes out tops in terms of air quality. This small European country bordering the Baltic Sea has a population of approximately 1.3 million people. Despite its small size, Estonia (nicknamed “e-Stonia”) is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. The country has declared Internet access a human right, and citizens can vote, pay tax, and even access their health records and school work online.
- 2. Sweden
Close on Estonia’s heels is the world’s chocolate-loving nation, Sweden, with an average PM2.5 of 5.67. The Swiss are known for their passion for sustainability. They harness 54% of their energy from renewables and 99% of their water is recycled. With a population of 10 million, and 86% of the population living in cities, Sweden is truly an example for all cities aiming to achieve progress and innovation without compromising human health and the environment.
- 3. Finland
Coming in 3rd with an average PM2.5 of 5.71, we can understand why the Finnish – ranked as the world’s happiest country (according to the 2018 World Happiness Report) – have something to smile about. With a population of 5.5 million, this small Scandinavian country’s landscape comprises 70% forest and is home to 188, 000 lakes. As an added bonus, it is also one of the best places to view the Northern Lights.
- 4. Canada
In 4th place is Canada with an average PM2.5 of 6.87. This maple syrup- and ice hockey-loving country is the world’s 2nd largest country by area, and boasts the world’s largest bi-national land border (thanks to its southern border with the United States). With over 80% of Canada’s approximately 37 million inhabitants living in cities, we commend Canadians for keeping their large country’s air so squeaky clean.
- 5. Australia
Don’t worry if icy winters and minimal sunlight aren’t your cup of tea – it’s not only the far north that can boast about clean air. With an average PM2.5 of 7.04, you can happily trade your coats and skis for surfboards and bikinis to enjoy great air quality down under. Australia has a population of approximately 25 million and is the world’s 6th largest country by total area. The Aussie’s have a strong nature-loving outdoor culture, and are passionate about keeping their air clean so that citizens and tourists can enjoy the diverse natural landscape the country has to offer.
How do these 5 exemplary countries compare with the most polluted cities in terms of air quality? Find out in our article The 10 most polluted cities in the world.
Keywords: Air quality, health, particulate matter/PM
When you think about health, air quality might not be the first thought that runs through your mind. However, this often-overlooked factor is very important when it comes to long term health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is a positive correlation between exposure to excessive amounts of air pollution and mortality and morbidity.
The type of air pollution also matters. High concentrations of PM2.5 and PM₁₀ specifically place individuals at risk of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, heart disease, respiratory infections, pulmonary diseases and lung cancer. PM is short for ‘particulate matter’. PM usually contains a mixture of solids and liquids including sulfate, ammonia, nitrates, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. PM₁₀ consists of particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less, while PM2.5 consists of particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. These minute particles can penetrate deep into the lungs (and PM2.5 can even cross the lung barrier and enter the bloodstream, which is even more damaging to human health).
In a quest to find out which cities’ residents are most at risk of poor health due to air pollution, we consulted the 2018 edition of the WHO Global Ambient Air Quality Database. This database consolidates annual mean PM2.5 and PM₁₀ measurements for over 2600 cities and towns across the globe. The results were astonishing, with each of the top 10 cities coming in well over the recommended upper limit of 10 μg/m3 for PM2.5.
The WHO guidelines for safe/acceptable annual mean PM measurements are as follows:
- Fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 10 μg/m3
- Coarse particulate matter (PM₁₀): 20 μg/m3
Here are the top 10 cities with the worst air quality as measured by their PM2.5 concentrations:
- Kanpur, India: 173 μg/m3
Kanpur is the 12th most populous city in India. It is home to Kanpur Central, one of the busiest railways in the country, with approximately 300 trains passing through daily. 4 major highways run through Kanpur, and the Kanpur airport services local travellers for flights to Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata. Apart from transport services, cars, and factories, Kanpur also has a booming leather industry that makes use of harsh chemicals that contribute to pollution.
- Faridabad, India: 172 μg/m3
Faridabad is situated in the state of Haryana, and is one of India’s leading industrial centres. It is Haryana’s most populous city and is famous for its henna industry. There are also numerous other manufacturing industries that thrive in Faridabad, including the tractor, refrigerator, tyre, apparel, refrigerator, and motorcycle industries.
- Gaya, India: 149 μg/m3
Gaya is situated in the state of Bihar, and is a well-known religious tourist centre for Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Agriculture is Gaya’s leading economical driver, and the city also has a number of home industries that produce goods such as incense, confectionery, woven textiles and garments, and stone items. There are also small metal, machinery, and equipment industries in the city.
- Varanasi, India: 146 μg/m3
Varanasi plays a significant role in Hinduism, as it is considered the holiest of the seven sacred Hindu cities. It is also said that Buddha founded Buddhism in Varanasi. The city forms part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, and is a prominent industrial centre that specialises in the production of muslin, silk, metal products, perfume, and ivory goods.
- Patna, India: 144 μg/m3
Patna is the capital of Birha, and ranks as the 21st fastest growing city in India according to the City Mayor’s Statistics report. It is East India’s second largest city and exports a number of agricultural products including sugarcane, rice, and sesame seeds. Patna also has several major railways and four national highways running through it.
- Delhi, India: 143 μg/m3
With the second highest population in India, it is easy to see why Delhi has also become northern India’s largest commercial centre. Delhi also has the highest road density in India (2103km/100km²), with a total of 1,05,67,712 registered vehicles on the road in 2017. These vehicles include cars, motorcycles, scooters, cabs, three-wheelers, cabs, and busses, rickshaws, and maxi cabs.
- Lucknow, India: 138 μg/m3
Lucknow is the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, and the 11th most populous city in India. Key industries include automotives, furniture, aeronautics, machine tools, embroidery, and chemicals. In 2010, Lucknow was voted the 6th fastest job-creating city in India.
- Bamenda, Cameroon: 132 μg/m3
The only non-Indian city on our list, Bamenda is a prominent African city with a population of approximately 2 million. Agriculture (specifically coffee) is the city’s main trade, and it also has prominent food processing, construction, crafts, and tourism and hospitality industries. Interestingly, Bamenda’s poor air quality is due to deforestation and climate change as opposed to factory and transport emissions.
- Agra, India (131 μg/m3)
Agra is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and is ranked the 23rd most populous city in India. Agra is home to the famous Taj Mahal, which contributes to its bustling tourist industry. Agriculture, footwear, leather, and iron are also major sources of income for Agra’s residents.
- Gurgaon, India: 120 μg/m3
Gurgaon is located in the state of Haryana, and is home to the Indian offices of 250 Fortune 500 companies. Maruti Suzuki Pty Ltd set up a car manufacturing unit in Gurgaon in the 1970s, and in 1997 General Electric was the first major American company to set up a manufacturing plant in the city.
The state of the environment’s general health worldwide is something that we hear about constantly, often accompanied by images of melting ice caps, mountains of trash and people wearing gas masks.
Air pollution in particular is a very pressing issue as the quality of the air we breathe continuously deteriorates day by day. The amount of hazardous particles that are entering our air has become so bad that up to seven million people die every year as a result according to the World Health Organization.
Nine out of ten people breathe polluted air worldwide so geography is not a factor in who can and cannot be affected. That being said, there are places that are more severely affected by pollution.
Zabol in Iran is recorded as being the most polluted city in the world with 217 micrograms per cubic metre, the World Health Organization’s recommended level of pollution being 18 moicrograms per cubic metre. A common misconception is that the air pollution there is caused by the wind blowing dust into the air when in actual fact it is a result of its proximity to mountains putting the city in a natural bowl of sorts, in which pollutants from burning fossil fuels are then trapped by the dust from storms.
India dominates this list as six (or seven depending on your source) of the top ten cities with the highest air pollution by particulate matter concentration are all in India. This is a direct result of a huge dependence on fossil fuels, wood and biomass, all of which contribute to the Asian brown cloud which affects India’s weather patterns by delaying the annual monsoon.
Cameroon is also known as being highly polluted especially in the town of Bamenda which has up to 13.2 times the recommended pollution in its air. Unlike most cities the high particulate matter concentration here is a result of deforestation and changing weather patterns. The particulate matter in the air is mostly caused by dust from cleared areas of forest.
The effects of air pollution on the general health of a population are very well documented. The World Health Organization has worked tirelessly to raise awareness. They’ve published statistics that show the most affected regions in the world according to annual deaths resulting from air pollution.
Due to an increasingly capitalistic culture many industries worldwide, especially in Asia, fail to stick to the environmental guidelines they are given and as a result air pollution continues to worsen.
The Guardian published a list of the cities with the worst pollution on the various continents which gives insight on how this scourge varies globally.
There’s no doubt about it – air pollution is bad for our health. Regularly inhaling polluted air can lead to pulmonary, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as exacerbate allergies and weaken the immune system.
Air pollution is defined as anything that contaminates the atmosphere by disrupting the air’s natural chemistry. Air pollutants can be divided into two categories:
- Primary pollutants: Pollutants emitted into the atmosphere directly from a source, for example volcanic eruptions or factory emissions.
- Secondary pollutants: Pollutants formed as a result of chemical reactions from primary pollutants in the atmosphere, such as the formation of ozone due to a chemical reaction between sunlight, organic gases, and nitrogen from vehicle emissions and factories.
.While natural sources, such as volcanic eruptions, cause air pollution, human activities have contributed significantly to the increase in air pollution in recent decades. Some of the worst air pollutants today include:
- Particulate matter (PM): These are microscopic particles made up of various solid and liquid organic and inorganic compounds. They are harmful when inhaled, as they can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the bloodstream.
- Ozone: As explained above, ozone is formed when nitrogen emissions react with sunlight. High concentrations of ozone can cause skin and respiratory irritations (e.g. asthma) and pulmonary disease. It can also damage plant growth and negatively impact ecosystems.
- Carbon Monoxide (CO): An odourless, toxic gas released when fossil fuels such as coal and oil are incompletely burnt (e.g. exhaust emissions, gas-based household heating equipment, and industrial emissions). Prolonged inhalation can cause headaches, weakness, confusion, dizziness, and eventually, death.
- Sulfur dioxide (SO₂): A gas produced when fuels containing sulfur are burnt during industrial processes. It can lead to health complications for individuals with pre-existing heart and lung conditions.
Other major air pollutants that can negatively impact human health and the environment include nitrogen oxides, lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxine, and benzene.
While it might seem like a daunting task, humanity must continue to work together to reduce emissions to protect human health and the ecosystems on which we depend for survival.
Keywords: primary pollutants, secondary pollutants, air pollution
Air pollution in Asia is not only affecting the health of its population but is most seriously having a damaging impact on global warming. Most of the approximately four billion people living in Asia wear masks when outside to shield themselves from thick clouds of pollution, as days where the blue sky is visible become scarcer. Whilst the increasing urbanisation of countries in the far east has seen an alarming number of deaths caused by pollution, new actions are being made to reduce the growing threat that this has on our climate.
A staggering 60% of the earth’s total population lives in Asia and is responsible for a recent surge in the sales of cars and motorbikes. The pollution produced by the vast quantity of vehicles in Asian cities is only exacerbated by the: increasing number of coal-burning power plants, rapid deforestation and factories built due to Asia’s booming economy. Beyond the effects that industrialisation and heavy traffic has on the climate, the fumes produced by fires burnt by the large portion of those living in poverty further contribute substantially to Asia’s air pollution.
The pollutants produced by this fast growth in the economy have drastic impacts on the climate. Scientists have found that this results in a lose-lose scenario: the pollutants (carbon dioxide and methane) emitted from these large cities retain heat from the sun and contribute to the warming of the earth. This rise in temperature has now been shown to worsen pollution as it increases the levels of surface ozone (a toxic pollutant produced by a chemical reaction between high temperatures and NOx and VOC pollutants) in the atmosphere. Furthermore, greenhouse gases are responsible for strong storms and cyclones in addition to irregular cloud formations, all of which are having a global impact.
As a direct consequence, the growing mortality rate has motivated new strategies to combat the worst pollution on earth. New energy efficient housing equipped with solar technology is being built in addition to the implementation of eco-friendly public transport. Moreover, investments have been made in new pedestrian-only areas and bike paths, all in the hope of reducing emissions and managing the toxic fumes produced by these megacities.
Whilst these new features are aimed to revert some of the damage already done, they are only being included in higher-income areas, and much progress needs to be made to assist poorer areas before pollution can be drastically reduced.
I visited a nursery this week to buy some indoor plants. A friend had suggested one does this to make your air cleaner in your home, or office. What may seem a large capital outlay (they are not that cheap!) becomes well worth it down the road for your health and attitude – for who does not improve their mood when surrounded by gorgeous, green, and leafy indoor plants.
I have always been a fan of the delicious monster, but beyond that (and some vague ideas) I had little idea of the whole host of incredible plants one could source and house for your home, just for the indoors! Outdoor plants are more real. Swayed by the wind, open to the elements, ideally watered by rain alone – they are legit plants. Indoor plants are like spoilt children. Given far too much attention, sometimes better looking (for who would choose an ugly plant for their home) and fed with precision for optimal performance they are the brats of the plant world.
It actually makes me think about Singapore and how any plant in that city almost feels like it is in a city-sized home rather than the outdoors. Cities fascinate me. Urban planning and future cities, and smart cities, and basically most of the big ones in the East. I feel like the future fate of planet earth lies very close to the fate of these huge Asian cities. Zurich will survive, as will Melbourne, Vancouver, Portland, Paris, or Nairobi. Somehow, their size and people will make it work. But large cities over ten million with so many needs and at increasing speeds – certainly they are the future’s benchmark?
Asia draws me. Asians draw me! One feels that if China, India, Japan, Korea (both of them), Indonesia, Pakistan and a few others “get it” then a lot of the world’s problems subside. In fact, we could likely “copy and paste” many of their solutions and implement them in other places. Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Spain and such.
Ever a fan of Citylab, I stay closely glued to developments in the world, and its precious cities. Who knows, perhaps one day we shall all be in one, and our health with be directly linked to our species and number of indoor plants 🙂