Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Is breathing bad for you?

Could a stroll down Oxford Road be bad for your health? Find out with the Barometer Podcast team on the 29th October at Manchester Museum during a LIVE podcast recording. Doors open at 1830 for a 1900 start. The event is free to attend. More details are available here and you can guarantee your seat here. Podcast team member, Will Morgan explains some of the science behind air pollution and why it is bad for our health.

Air pollution has been a major issue in Greater Manchester since the Industrial Revolution, with the smoke emanating from the many factories leading to smog settling over the city. The author Johanna Schonpenhauer remarked in 1830 that Manchester was:
“Dark and smoky from the coal vapours, it resembles a huge forge or workshop.”

Several of Lowry’s paintings depicted the smoke and haze coming from factories in Salford. As industrialisation and motor vehicles spread across the globe, so did the issue of air pollution. Just this week, Sydney has been blanketed by dense smoke from bush fires, while a city in Northern China is suffering with air pollution levels that are 40 times the safe limit recommended by the World Health Organisation. These are very visible examples of air pollution but often the problem is what we don’t see. Even relatively low levels of air pollution can be harmful to our health, especially if we are exposed for long periods.
  Manchester Museum’s spider crab helps me make some pollution measurements on Oxford Road.
Breathing in the fumes from cars, factories and anything else that involves burning fuel can have serious short and long-term implications for our health. Air pollution has been linked to both causing and aggravating heart and lung diseases. Globally, these are the leading causes of death and air pollution makes them worse. The World Health Organisation recently declared that air pollution is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths. During and after major air pollution events, the number of people suffering heart attacks and respiratory problems increases.

The most dangerous type of air pollution is from tiny particles that are suspended in the air, known as aerosols or particulate matter. These are estimated to have contributed to around 3.2 million deaths in 2010. A recent report by the European Environment Agency concluded that around 90% of people living in European cities are exposed to levels of air pollution that are damaging to our health. Closer to home, it is estimated that nearly 29,000 deaths each year in the UK occur due to particulate matter pollution. Across Greater Manchester, between 1 in 17 and 1 in 19 adult deaths are attributable to particulate matter pollution.
Efforts to improve the situation have been mixed, as air pollution is a complex conundrum for both scientists and policy makers. If you want to hear more about this important issue, then I recommend joining us next Tuesday at our live podcast: Is breathing bad for you? 7pm at the Manchester Museum. See you there.

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