The World Health Organization is just one example of an initiative that has long challenged governments to adopt stricter environmental standards, with the goal of improving healthy living conditions. But now, their message, along with many from other organizations, is made more urgent today as the estimated number of yearly deaths from air pollution rises.
New studies linking air pollution to premature deaths has brought the issue of air quality back into the spotlight. A study published in Environmental Research Letters estimates that air pollution causes over two million deaths a year. Another study in “Climate Change” warns that global warming might increase that number to more than 100,000 adults per year.
According to the WHO, one way to reduce air pollution and mitigate global warming is by lowering emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels—and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aims to do just that. The organization enforces National Ambient Air Quality Standards to help protect the health of the public. Backed by federal law, these standards limit emissions of air pollutants from common sources such as chemical plants, steel mills and other manufacturing facilities. According to the EPA, the Clean Air Act “has a proven record of public health and environmental protection.”
The EPA continues to work with many forms of government to further improve air quality for citizens. However, the people most at risk for illnesses and death caused by air pollution are actually in developing countries with large populations, especially in East and South Asia.
China is a classic example. In 2010, the air quality index in Beijing hit 755—255 levels above what was supposed to be the top of the scale. In comparison, the reading in New York City on that same day was 19.
Since then, Beijing has strengthened its efforts to control air quality by promoting clean energy autos, reducing coal consumption and closing hundreds of heavily polluting plants. It is an ongoing campaign that politicians admit requires long-term commitment.
As the EPA points out, “air pollution does not recognize state or international boundaries.” Polluted air from one country can travel thousands of miles to another country, damaging the health of all those who are exposed. The issue of air quality is thus a global concern that necessitates cooperation from countries all over the world.
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