Friday, March 17, 2023

Nowhere in the World Escapes the Contamination of Air Pollution

8:29 PM | ,

An unprecedented Monash University study has revealed that only a miniscule fraction of the world's land and population are exposed to PM2.5 levels beneath the safety benchmarks established by the WHO. Although daily concentrations have dropped in Europe and North America between 1999 and 2019, they have risen in southern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In addition, more than 70% of the days recorded around the world exceed the safe limit.

Professor Yuming Guo from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Melbourne, Australia, has headed a study that has been published in the esteemed journal Lancet Planetary Health. This study has produced a map which reveals the changes to global PM2.5 exposure over the years, in spite of the lack of air pollution monitoring stations around the world which has caused an absence of data concerning local, national, regional and global levels.

Professor Guo noted that the research team used a combination of conventional air quality monitoring, meteorological and air pollution sensors, statistical and machine learning techniques to gain a better understanding of PM2.5 concentrations across the globe. "In this study, our goal was to use a creative machine learning approach to combine multiple meteorological and geological data to estimate daily PM2.5 concentrations on a global scale with a resolution of 10km x 10km from 2000-2019, particularly in areas where the levels exceeded the 15 μg/m³ standard set by WHO (although this limitation is debatable)," he explained.

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Research uncovered a trend of decreasing PM2.5 concentrations and high PM2.5 days in Europe and northern America over the two decades in focus, while exposures in southern Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and Latin America and the Caribbean showed a rise.

Moreover, the research demonstrated that:

Despite a minor decline in days with elevated PM2.5 globally, in 2019 more than 70% of days still had amounts higher than 15 μg/m³.

Southern Asia and eastern Asia observed over 90% of days with daily PM2.5 concentrations surpassing 15 μg/m³.

Australia and New Zealand witnessed a large growth in the amount of days with elevated PM2.5 concentrations in 2019.

From 2000 to 2019, the yearly mean PM2.5 globally was 32.8 µg/m3.

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In 2019, Eastern Asia and Southern Asia experienced the highest levels of PM2.5 concentrations, with 50.0 µg/m3 and 37.2 µg/m3, respectively, while northern Africa saw 30.1 µg/m3.

In terms of the lowest concentrations, Australia and New Zealand had 8.5 μg/m³, other regions in Oceania had 12.6 μg/m³ and southern America had 15.6 μg/m³.

According to the 2021 WHO guideline limit, only 0.18% of the global land area and 0.001% of the population were exposed to annual levels of PM2.5 lower than 5 μg/m³ in 2019.

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Professor Guo reported that the level of PM2.5 in Northeast China and North India tends to be elevated in the wintertime (December, January, and February), while the eastern regions of North America encounter higher concentrations of the pollutant in the summer (June, July, and August).

In South America, PM2.5 air pollution was notably high between August and September, while sub-Saharan Africa saw elevated levels from June to September.

He further stated that this research is invaluable as it supplies a comprehensive comprehension of the present outdoor air contamination and its impacts on human health. With this knowledge, decision-makers, public health officers, and researchers can more accurately evaluate the short and long-term health consequences of air pollution and create strategies for its reduction.

Reference: A machine learning modelling study conducted by W. Yu, T. Ye, Y. Zhang et al. in Lancet Planet Health estimates global daily ambient concentrations of fine particulate matter, as well as the unequal distribution of population exposure. This research can be found in the March 2023 issue of the journal with the DOI of 10.1016/S2542-5196(23)00008-6.

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