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Even low levels of air pollution can damage health

A study conducted in one of the cleanest countries in the world could help governments think about ways to manage air pollution. In recent years, abundant data from London’s infamous 1952 smog onwards has shown that breathing high concentrations of air pollution harms our health. This is consistent with the 20th-century idea of targets for the quality of our air. However, a new study looked at the health harm caused by air pollution in a different way than previous studies have done.

Researchers looked at Canada to see how people in cleanest areas were still experiencing ill health.

The census records for more than 7 million Canadians from between 1981 and 2016 were combined with air pollution data to see if there was a link between small amounts of particle pollution and health problems. The results showed that there may still be some harm done by these particles, even at low levels. Outdoor air pollution is a major health concern in Canada, with nearly 8,000 Canadians dying early each year from it. Even people living in the cleanest areas are experiencing an impact on their health due to outdoor air pollution.

Air pollution levels in England are harming people at concentrations that are one-half of the latest World Health Organization guideline and just quarter of the 2040 target proposed for England.

The Canadian study was one of three that were funded by the US Health Effects Institute. The other two looked at more than 60 million people in the US and 27 million people in Europe. All three studies reached similar conclusions: there is no lower limit that can be used to define safe air quality, so governments should not constrain their ambition around setting targets for the worst air that people should breathe.

“These findings suggest important health benefits could be gained from continued reductions in air pollution and more stringent regulatory standards, including in countries such as Canada and the UK.

Considering that we don’t identify a ‘safe’ level of air pollution, we should rethink our approach and focus on continued reductions year by year, rather than just setting fixed concentration standards that are only reviewed every five to 10 years. The health impacts are far too large."

-Study Lead, Prof Michael Brauer from the University of British Columbia

Air pollution, which can come from a variety of sources such as traffic, manufacturing, and residential heating and cooling, has been linked to a number of health issues. Last month, the UK's Royal College of Physicians issued a review warning that air pollution contributes to dementia; meanwhile, in the US Review on Air Quality and Health released earlier this year highlighted how asthma can start from being exposed to air pollution from traffic.

Despite commitments by European countries to reduce average particle levels and total emissions produced by each country however growing evidence underscores the need for action at all levels - individual city governments as well as international organizations - in order for clean air to be attained everywhere.

Source: The Guardian