A fairly common complaint about my deaths per terawatt hour article is that radiation has long term effects and air pollution also has long term effects so why put more emphasis and concern over air pollution versus radiation and fallout from Chernobyl ?
Outdoor air pollution in cities causes 1.3 million deaths per year. Chernobyl might cause 4000 deaths over about 35 years.
1.3 million deaths per year is 0.023 of all deaths or 23000 out of every million.
4000 deaths per year over 35 years is 2 deaths out of every million.
One effect begins in the second decimal place and other might begin in the sixth decimal place.
If the 4000 deaths from Chernobyl type events is accurate then if we started having a Chernobyl every day for 40 years then the number of deaths would increase to 1.3 million deaths per year from the cumulative effect.
The mortality in cities with high levels of pollution exceeds that observed in relatively cleaner cities by 15–20%. Even in the EU, average life expectancy is 8.6 months lower due to exposure to PM2.5 produced by human activities.
Even relatively low concentrations of air pollutants have been related to a range of adverse health effects.
Poor indoor air quality may pose a risk to the health of over half of the world’s population. In homes where biomass fuels and coal are used for cooking and heating, PM levels may be 10–50 times higher than the guideline values.
The WHO Air quality guidelines represent the most widely agreed and up-to-date assessment of health effects of air pollution, recommending targets for air quality at which the health risks are significantly reduced. The Guidelines indicate that by reducing particulate matter (PM10) pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic metre, we can cut air quality related deaths by around 15%.
WHO has studied publicly-available air quality data from almost 1100 cities across 91 countries, including capital cities and cities with populations of more than 100,000 people. The data used are based on measurements taken from 2003 to 2010, with most being reported for the period 2008-2009.
The WHO air quality guidelines for PM10 is 20 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3) as an annual average. However, its study found that the average PM10 in some cities is more than ten times this amount.
The highest average annual PM10 level was found in the Iranian city of Ahwaz, with a reading of 372 μg/m3, followed by Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia at 279 μg/m3. Eleven cities were found to have annual levels above 200 μg/m3. The majority of the cities recording levels below 20 μg/m3 are in the USA and Canada.
The study concludes that the estimated mortality in 2008 attributable to outdoor air pollution in cities was 1.34 million premature deaths. WHO claims that, if its guidelines had been universally met, some 1.09 million deaths could have been prevented in 2008.
Pounds of Particulates Breathed per year
In major cities there is between 20-370 micrograms of particulates (PM10 10 micron) per cubic meter of air.
Each day you take over 20,000 breaths and breathe about 35 pounds of air. At sea level and at 20 °C, dry air has a density of approximately 1.2 kg per cubic meter. So every day you are breathing 13.2 cubic meters of air. So 0.2-1.5 grams of particulates each day pass through your lungs every day unless you live some of the particularly clean air areas.
In one year 73-1100 grams of particulates pass through your lungs. So in Beijing over 1 pound of particulates through someones lungs each year. 2.6-5 ounces of particulates every year for people living in many major US cities. So every 4-6 years, one pound of particulates through the lungs even for cities in the USA.
The particulates are interacting with your lungs and body and causing cardio and pulmonary effects. Were you ever exposed to significant levels of radiation from a nuclear power plant ?
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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