The World Air Quality Report, a study on particulate matter and air pollution, has just been published. According to the report, published by IQAir Group (a company that collects information on air pollution) in collaboration with Greenpeace International, New Delhi is the capital city most polluted by particulate matter, followed by the megacities of Lahore in Pakistan, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Kolkata in India, Linyi and Tianjin in China, and Jakarta, in Indonesia. The report also shows that almost 90% of the 200 cities in the world with the highest levels of particulate pollution are in China and India, followed by Pakistan and Indonesia. If the number of inhabitants is taken into account, the record for particulate pollution is held by Bangladesh, followed by Pakistan, Mongolia and Afghanistan.
Italy, on the other hand, was found to be the country in Europe where the greatest number of premature deaths from exposure to PM 2.5 occur, about 80,000 people every year.
The figures from the IQAir report, which is based on data from almost 5,000 cities worldwide, are not reassuring. Air pollution is the world’s major environmental health threat and 90% of the world’s population breathes unclean air: according to the WHO, of the seven million premature deaths linked to air pollution globally, most are caused by PM 2.5, fine particles of 2.5 microns – or less – in diameter, about 1/30th the width of a human hair. These are the most dangerous particulates because they are able to enter the bloodstream through the respiratory system, causing problems to circulation and breathing.
These particles are released by sandstorms, agricultural practices, industry and, above all, the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change itself has begun to amplify the health risk associated with particulate matter, particularly due to increasingly intense forest fires and sandstorms exacerbated by pervasive desertification. Global warming and PM 2.5 have in many ways the same main driving force: the burning of coal, oil and gas. Taking action to reduce pollution from fossil fuels therefore means taking action on two problems at once.