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Published on Thursday, November 23, 2017

What A Killer: Air Pollution’s Fatal Toll


What A Killer: Air Pollution’s Fatal Toll

When we think of air pollution, we often envision smog-induced cities or gridlocked traffic. We may even conjure up images of large factories with smoke billowing out of their silos. While these certainly all play a role, much more is going on behind the world’s fourth highest threat to human health. The numbers are a wake up call for many: nine million lives are lost globally as a result of air pollution. No nation around the world is immune to the effects of it. In fact, some are more susceptible. Countries with higher rates of poverty or lax policies and regulations on air pollutants often suffer the most harm.

Among other things, air pollution compromises the ozone layer. This layer is meant to serve as a protective covering of the earth from the power of the sun’s rays. When the air is distorted by carbon emissions, the layering holds onto these emissions and traps them within our atmosphere. Air pollution also plays a vital role in the health of the world’s forests and oceans. Oxygen and water are necessary requirements for life. If the two are out of balance in their otherwise symbiotic relationship, the entire food chain and ecosystem suffers.

Air Polluted Countries At A Glance

We’ve all heard stories and seen news reports about air pollution in China. As the second largest economy in the world, it’s easy to understand and see the perils of air pollution in the highly populated country where regulations are tested and sometimes abandoned. Yet China is not the only high risk country that suffers the plight of air pollution. Compared to other cities, China ranks lower on the charts, illustrating that you don’t have to be a population powerhouse to have a harmful impact to the air. Here are some countries that call for immediate attention to this devastating worldwide crisis.

Ukraine  - According to the World Economic Forum, this Eastern European country of 45 million has the highest rate of death from air pollution. For every 100,000 inhabitants, there are 120 deaths from air pollution. The 1986 Chernobyl accident where a nuclear power plant exploded and contaminated one-tenth of the country’s land mass with leaked radiation still has lingering effects. Today, within a 19 mile radius of the power plant, the area remains uninhabitable. It is considered to be the single largest industrial accident in the world. Though Chernobyl represents only part of the environmental concerns in the Ukraine, it is a part of history that highlights man’s causes with devastating and perhaps lifelong impacts.

Russia - Deforestation is another often overlooked, but critical player in the realm of air pollution. Russia is the number one agent behind deforestation with Brazil, Canada, and the United States trailing behind in the top four spots respectively. As we know, trees provide oxygen. Conversely, they also take in the carbon dioxide, storing it and acting as a reserve of pollutants. This helps to lower the amount of pollution that we breathe. However, when forests are cleared to make way for things like industrial agriculture, the stored carbon dioxide is released into the air causing an adverse impact to the environment. Couple this with soft energy policies, and Russia has about 98 air pollution deaths for every 100,000 people.

Georgia - The tiny country of 3.7 million has a thing for old cars. So much so, they are still in high production and rely on diesel fuel. While diesel fuel compared with other fuel sources is lower in emittance of carbon monoxide (leading many to believe that was environmentally friendly), the fuel is still dirty as it is refined from crude oil. Alternative energy sources are often overlooked in Georgia, likely due to cost, thus increasing the reliance on this fuel.

Culprits of Air Pollution

Air pollution has many players. Even our individual carbon footprint plays a role in the environment from our diets to partaking in barbequing to camp fires. When done in succinctness, an individual’s carbon footprint suddenly makes for a big foot. The National Park Service notes four major components of air pollution contributors:

  • Transportation vehicles

  • Oil and gas refineries

  • Industrial agriculture

  • Wildfires and other naturally occurring phenomenon (i.e. volcanic eruptions)

Apart from naturally occurring phenomenon such as volcanic eruptions, all of these major players have been introduced into society by man within the last century. When combined, they have urgent consequences. The introduction of motor vehicles into society produced on a mass scale was in the early 20th century. The economy was stimulated as a result of the means to travel. Couple that with a growing population to feed, so too followed industrial agriculture. To supplement a swelling population and the transportation industry, oil and gas refineries also grew by leaps and bounds. Many of the contributors to today’s air pollution stem from a changing and growing world.  

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Author: AThompson

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