Everyone knows the danger and consequences that smoking, drinking alcohol and not having physical activity can have on one’s organism. However, in the last couple of years especially, scientists and health professionals all around the world are paying more attention than ever to health risks that are caused by not so obvious factors. Healthy environment is one of the prerequisites for a healthy lifestyle and one of the reasons why they are not among our list of priorities is because we can’t see them and we can only rely on the information from media and experts. For those living in big cities, the chances of risking your health are getting even higher due to air pollution. The World Health Organization reports that in 2016, 91% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met.
Outdoor air pollution represents a major health risk that can affect anyone, regarding their income or birthplace. Even though many are still not aware of the effect it can have on one’s overall health, the statistics are rather worrying – only in 2016, air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide. Even though most countries suffer from this issue, countries in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions are facing biggest challenges. However, in 2015, Friends of the Earth Netherlands measured air pollution in 59 different Dutch cities and found that in 11 of them, air pollution exceeded the EU limit of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of 40 µg/m3 a year. These statistics mean immediate action that is, unfortunately, not in the hands of individuals but local, national and regional level policy-makers working in sectors like transport, energy, waste management, urban planning, and agriculture.
A Direct Connection Between Pollution and Health
A 2013 assessment by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), along with numerous trustworthy doctors and modern health centers, concluded that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans, especially lung cancer. Additionally, research has shown that air pollution influences on occurrence of many other potential health problems such as stroke, heart disease and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. In fact, in 2016, around 58% of outdoor air pollution-related premature deaths occurred as a result of ischemic heart disease and strokes, while 18% of deaths were due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute lower respiratory infections respectively, and 6% of deaths were due to lung cancer.
Be the Change You Want to See
Still, there are many positive examples around the world showing the different side to the story. In fact, Dutch startup TreeWiFi introduced one of these initiatives in Amsterdam – “the tree” that provides free Wi-Fi internet access will turn off the internet access when air pollution around a treehouse exceeds a predefined limit. Even though this might not prove as the best possible solution, it still shows us that change needs to start from your own community in order to reach global scales and it can at least inspire us to do the same.