Clean air is getting rare!

It seems the need for a Cambridge Mask is only set to increase. Since the time of Hippocrates around 400 BC, people have been aware of poor air quality and a link to health. But from then, through the industrial revolution and up to now, global air has gotten dirtier and more people have become sick or died prematurely because of it. In April 2022, the WHO released a new report revealing we’re almost all breathing in polluted air. 99% of the global population to be precise.

The WHO is also calling for us all to stop our reliance on fossil fuels. Whether we’ll ever wean ourselves off fossil fuels completely remains to be seen, but perhaps the word that is more applicable is ‘curtailing.’ The burning of fossil fuels has truly become the bane of our existence, causing pollutants that infringe upon not just our well-being, but also that of the planet’s health too. The dispensing of fossil fuels into the atmosphere leads to respiratory and blood-flow problems, which in turn leads to millions of preventable deaths annually.

 “You can't improve what you don't measure.” – Peter Drucker

The extent of the monitoring of air quality has increased, with 6000 cities in 117 countries now staying abreast of the situation. It’s all part of a new database that the WHO now uses to more intricately monitor air quality. However, those residing in these cities are still breathing in unhealthy levels of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, with those most affected living in low and middle-income countries. The WHO findings, which were released to coincide with the celebration of World Health Day, which took place on April 7th, have shed further light on the fact that we need to curb our reliance on fossil fuels and seek out other means by which to dramatically lower levels of air pollution.

The new database has introduced ground measurements of annual mean concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a precursor to particulate matter and a habitual urban pollutant. In addition, measurements of particulate matter with diameters equal or smaller than 10 μm (PM10) or 2.5 μm (PM2.5) are also part of the reporting mechanisms of the database. The extent to which information regarding these noxious fumes now gets gathered has increased almost 6-fold since 2011 when the database was first launched. Individuals can now also purchase affordable home air quality monitors and air purifiers, to take ownership of their own indoor environment. When venturing outside, masks like Cambridge Mask remove nearly 100% of particulate pollution.

Impacting upon the human body

The evidence to support the fact that air pollution harms the body has grown rapidly, and this includes even low levels of several air pollutants. Particulate matter, primarily PM2.5, has the ability to be absorbed by the lungs and to thus enter the bloodstream, resulting in strokes as well as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. There is also evidence to suggest that particulate matter’s harmful capabilities extend to other organs in the body, resulting in other diseases as well. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is typically linked to respiratory conditions such as asthma, which in turn leads to breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and more emergency room or hospital visits. Expat residents of Beijing often refer to “Beijing Cough”, symptomatic of the city’s legendary air quality problems.

What can world governments do?

While many governments around the world have taken steps to improve air quality, China being a key example when it hosted the 2008 summer Olympics, the WHO is insisting that governments ramp up efforts to do the following:

  • Keep track of air quality and identify contributors of air pollution – there are many great air quality apps you can download on your smartphone
  • Get behind the transition to clean household energy for lighting, cooking and heating – solar panels are a great option to reduce energy use
  • Implement country-wide air quality standards based on the most recent WHO Air Quality Guidelines – that means more electric cars and cycling, cracking down on polluting companies and reducing deforestation
  • Invest in public transport systems that are safe, affordable, and pedestrian and cycle-friendly – Luxembourg has made all public transport free as of 2020
  • Look into cleaner and/or energy-efficient power generation and housing
  • Invest in ways to better the management of municipal waste
  • Instil more stringent vehicle and efficiency regulations and carry out compulsory vehicle inspections and maintenance
  • Make the subject of air pollution part of the curricula for health professionals and offer applicable resources to the health sector
  • Lessen forest fires and agro-forestry activities such as the production of charcoal and curtail agricultural waste incineration

The Right to Breathe 

We all share the same air, but some are affected more than others by air pollution. Of the 117 countries monitoring air quality, 17% of those that fall below the WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines for PM2.5 and PM10 are high-income countries. Lower and middle-income countries have achieved less than 1%.  Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on the other hand is a less discerning air pollutant and has shown to display similar levels in both high-income and lower and middle-income countries. Of roughly 4000 cities in 74 countries, it has been found that 23% of inhabitants are breathing in too much NO2.

People living in lower and middle-income countries are least covered with regards to air quality measurement, which means that the stats relayed are limited and thus could be worse than reported on, but the situation is getting better. The regions with the most in-depth data on air quality are Europe, and to a degree, the USA. In terms of low and middle-income countries, many still cannot provide PM2.5 measurements. However, the situation has improved since the last database update in 2018 and the current one, thanks to the fact that 1500 human settlements within these countries are now also monitoring air quality.

In conclusion 

Air pollution is a real crisis, and it needs urgent attention. World Health Day, which was held on the 7th of April, was used to create awareness around just how dire the situation is. According to the WHO, more than 13 million deaths around the world occur as a result of stoppable environmental causes. Practical steps that everyone can take right now include switching to solar energy, making use of reusable bags as opposed to plastic ones, composting food, and switching to face masks that are reusable, like the Cambridge Mask PRO. By electing to use a Cambridge Mask, you’ll get the benefit of breathing in air that has gone through a triple filtration system and you’ll stop a total of 170 single-use disposable masks from going into our oceans and our landfills. It all starts with you.