Tuesday, 24th May 2022
<To guardian.ng
Breaking News:

How air pollution is destroying our health, by WHO

By Chukwuma Muanya
02 November 2018   |   4:20 am
Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter how rich an area you live in. It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.


*Traffic noise ‘raises risk of depression, deafness by 75 percent, research finds
*Taking hot bath twice weekly ‘better than exercise’ for treating mental disorder

As the world gets hotter and more crowded, our engines continue to pump out dirty emissions, and half the world has no access to clean fuels or technologies (example stoves, lamps), the very air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted: nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills seven million people every year. The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.

Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter how rich an area you live in. It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.The lack of visible smog is no indication that the air is healthy. Across the world, both cities and villages are seeing toxic pollutants in the air exceed the average annual values recommended by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) air quality guidelines. To help people better understand just how polluted the air is where they live, the WHO, United Nations (UN) Environment and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Breathe Life campaign developed an online pollution meter.

This year, WHO and partners are convening the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in Geneva on 29 October – 1 November to rally the world towards major commitments to fight this problem. The conference will raise awareness of this growing public health challenge and share information and tools on the health risks of air pollution and its interventions.

This conference will showcase some of WHO’s work on air pollution, including the findings of its Global Platform on Air Quality and Health. This platform whose diverse membership includes researchers, civil society, UN agencies and other partner institutions reviews the data on air quality and health. For example, the platform is working on techniques to more accurately attribute air pollution coming from different sources of pollution. It is also working on improving estimates of air quality by combining the data from various air quality monitoring networks, atmospheric modelling and satellite remote sensing.

Legacy format detected for design:

Also, a study shows being exposed to traffic noise on a regular basis raises the risk of depression by almost two thirds. Scientists tracked thousands of people living in Amsterdam over a four-year period, measuring noise levels round-the-clock.The results revealed those regularly exposed to over 70 decibels (db) were 65 per cent more at risk of depression than those exposed to just 45-54db.

The findings may help to explain why city-dwellers tend to have higher rates of the mental illness than those in quieter locations. Researchers studied 23,000 men and women aged 18 to 70 from inner-city Amsterdam.They matched their postcodes with traffic noise records from different parts of the city and got volunteers to complete frequent questionnaires designed to detect signs of depression.High noise levels were defined as anything over 65 decibels. A passing diesel lorry generates around 85 decibels and a motorbike roughly 100db.

The findings, in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, revealed those forced to listen to 70db or higher on a regular basis had much higher rates of depression.In a report researchers said: “This study provides new evidence of an association between high road traffic noise exposure and depressed mood.”

It is estimated that in London alone 1.6 million people are exposed to traffic noise at dangerously high levels. The findings suggest mental health may suffer just as much as physical health, with previous studies showing that noise over 65db can lead to premature death by forcing up blood pressure and increasing the risk of a stroke.

People who are exposed to a constant stream of traffic noise are at a higher risk of a heart attack due to the body being put under stress, researchers have previously found.Those who live close to main roads or railway lines the most at risk, as an aircraft never remains continuously above 65 decibels.

The new study’s findings may help to explain why city-dwellers tend to have higher rates of the mental illness than those in quieter locations.Previously, German research compared patterns of brain activity seen in response to social stress in urban and rural dwellers.The study found that city dwellers had greater activity in an area of the brain called amygdala, which is associated with negative mood and stress.

This area has also been suggested to play an important role in anxiety disorders, depression and violent behaviour.Also, a study has found taking hot baths could be a better way of treating depression than exercising.People who go to a spa for an hour twice a week show better improvements in their mental health than those who work out regularly.

Experts suggest this could be because it restores the body’s natural temperature rhythm over the course of a day, which can be disrupted in depressed patients.Regular bathing is faster-acting and easier than exercise, scientists said, and the study showed people are more likely to continue with it over the long term.

In a study by Freiburg University in Germany people with depression were told to sit in a 40C (104F) bath for 30 minutes then relax with hot water bottles, and researchers found the effects were more profound than working out for the same amount of time.The research was published in the journal bioRxiv.

In a study by Freiburg University in Germany people with depression were told to sit in a 40C (104F) bath for 30 minutes then relax with hot water bottles, and researchers found the effects were more profound than working out for the same amount of time.

Researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany tested the effects of thermal baths on 45 people with depression.They said: “Hyperthermic baths seems to be a fast-acting, safe and easy accessible method leading to clinically relevant improvement in depressive disorder after two weeks.“It is also suitable for persons who have problems performing exercise training.”

The people in the study, who had an average age of 48, all had moderate to severe depression, which was measured on the commonly used HAM-D scale.A score of 19 or higher out of 50 indicates someone has severe depression – the average score among participants was 21.7.They were randomly assigned to either twice-weekly spa bathing, or two sessions of moderate exercise a week and their depression retested.People in the bathing group saw an average drop of six points within a fortnight, whereas exercise patients only shaved three points off their score.

This suggests someone with severe depression could cut their symptoms to moderate depression by bathing, or somebody already on a moderate score could drop to mild. And whereas 13 out of 23 people dropped out of the exercise group, only two out of 22 refused to complete the hot bath treatments.All the bathers had to do was sit in a 40°C (104°F) bath for 30 minutes, then wrap themselves in blankets and hot water bottles for another 20 minutes.

People in the exercise group had to do a moderate aerobic workout, such as running, dancing or swimming, for 40 to 45 minutes.Although the exact causes of depression are not certain, it is believed a disrupted circadian rhythm – or body clock – could be to blame, the New Scientist reports.The circadian rhythm is the physical and chemical changes the body goes through throughout the day.

This includes the fluctuation of a person’s body temperature which rises in the morning and falls during the night.In people with depression their body temperature may not regulate itself properly, and taking hot baths could help correct this – the baths in the study raised participants’ body temperature by around 2°C (35.6°F).

Meanwhile, there are two main types of air pollution: ambient air pollution (outdoor pollution) and household (or indoor) air pollution refers to pollution generated by household combustion of fuels (caused by burning fuel such as coal, wood or kerosene) using open fires or basic stoves in poorly ventilated spaces. Both indoor and outdoor air pollution can contribute to each other, as air moves from inside buildings to the outside, and vice versa.

Household air pollution kills four million people a year and tends to affect countries in Africa and Asia, where polluting fuels and technologies are used every day particularly at home for cooking, heating and lighting. Women and children, who tend to spend more time indoors, are affected the most.

The main pollutants: are (1) particulate matter, a mix of solid and liquid droplets arising mainly from fuel combustion and road traffic; (2) nitrogen dioxide from road traffic or indoor gas cookers; (3) sulphur dioxide from burning fossil fuels; and (4) ozone at ground level, caused by the reaction of sunlight with pollutants from vehicle emissions. The pollutant that affects people the most is particulate matter (often abbreviated to PM and used as a measure for air pollution).

Air quality monitoring: Air quality monitoring in low- and middle-income countries needs to be strengthened, especially in areas close to hospitals, schools, and workplaces. Low-cost sensors and other new technologies can expand air quality monitoring and forecasting to areas that are currently underserved. New protocols and standards are needed to guide the effective use and interpretation of data produced by low-cost sensors in citizen science and other applications.

Health sector emissions: Access to reliable and sustainable energy in healthcare facilities is essential to achieve the goal of universal health coverage. On-site renewable energy generation in healthcare facilities can improve access to healthcare services, especially in rural, developing world settings. In developed countries, hospitals are among the most energy-intensive buildings. By reducing its own carbon footprint, the health sector can show how climate change mitigation produces concrete health benefits.

Equipping national health workforces: National health workforces must be capable of dealing with the immediate impacts of air pollution on the health of populations, and to inform policymakers to undertake preventive action to reduce the air pollution-related disease burden. There are currently few training programmes on air pollution and its health effects, and little related information, in public health education.

Children’s health: Globally, 93 per cent of children under 18 live with air pollution levels above WHO guidelines. Air pollution causes over half of all child deaths from acute lower respiratory infection in children under-five years in lower middle-income countries. Air pollution exposure is linked to a wide range of adverse health outcomes in children, including infant mortality, asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, and childhood cancers. By “prescribing” clean air for children, policymakers can protect them from the lifelong effects of air pollution exposure.

Access to clean household energy: Clean household energy access must move higher on the global energy, health and climate agendas. Household air pollution is one of the world’s single biggest environmental health risk, and a significant source of climate-warming pollution. To achieve SDG 7 targets for universal access to modern energy, three billion people must gain access to clean cooking solutions, and 1 billion must gain access to electricity, by 2030.

Climate change: Air pollution is the greatest environmental risk to health of our time, and climate change is the greatest public health threat of the 21st century. Burning fossil fuels is the primary source of both climate-warming emissions and health-damaging air pollution. Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants can generate immediate benefits for health and slow climate change Actions to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and short-lived climate pollutants are also measures to protect public health now and in the future.

Noncommunicable diseases: Air pollution is the second leading cause of noncommunicable diseases, such as stroke, cancer and heart disease, which are on the rise worldwide. In many countries, improving air quality can only significantly reduce such diseases. Mainstreaming air pollution reduction into policies to combat noncommunicable diseases leads to multiple benefits for the environment, economy and health.

Outdoor workers: Outdoor workers, including agricultural, construction or waste collection workers, and traffic police, are particularly vulnerable to ambient air pollution; at least 1.2 billion people work outdoors most of the time. In addition to breathing polluted air, such workers are often exposed to other environmental risks, such as heat and cold, heavy rain, and wind as well as solar UV and allergenic pollens.

In this article