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Episode #56 - Air pollution & COVID-19

1 October 2021 | Science conversation

Summary

What have we learned about air pollution and COVID-19? Learn about six air pollutants that are harming your health. Dr Maria Neira explains findings from WHO’s new air quality guidelines in Science in 5.

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Hello, and welcome to Science in 5. I'm Vismita Gupta-Smith. We are talking today about WHO 's new Air Quality Guidelines and our expert is Dr Maria Neira. Welcome, Maria. Maria, tell us what is new in WHO's new Air Quality Guidelines?

Maria Neira

What is new, essentially, is that we need to lower the recommended levels of exposure to air pollutants in order to protect people's health. So we know now that even exposure to a very low levels of certain pollutants that we are breathing every day will put us at risk. And that's why, for six key pollutants, we are recommending lower levels that will be protecting your health. The important message of these guidelines is that if those recommendations of WHO are implemented, particularly for PM 2.5, which is one of the most dangerous for our health, we could save 80% of the total number of deaths that we have every year due to air pollution, and that number is 7 million premature deaths caused by exposure to air pollution.So as you can see Vismita we have an incredible opportunity here that we cannot miss to protect our health.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Maria, elaborate please on these six pollutants that we must control in the air that we breathe.

Maria Neira

Yes, they are six pollutants that are very much of concern for our health. One of them is the so-called PM so particulate matter 2.5. It's such a small particle that can go very easily to your lungs and from our lungs will not stay there. It can go even to the bloodstream, and from there reach any organ in our in our body. Then we have PM10, which is a little bit bigger. And then other four pollutants that are coming essentially from traffic or from the combustion of fossil fuels.And I'm sure that you hear about SO2 or NO2 or ozone or carbon monoxide. All of those six are the ones that we are targeting. And if we are successful in implementing those new recommendations and lowering the levels of those six pollutants, we can save many, many lives.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Maria, what have we learned so far about COVID-19 and air pollution?

Maria Neira

It's clear that the bad quality of the air we breathe will be a major risk factor for acute and chronic respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to that, if you are exposed to air pollution, you will develop certain diseases, underlying diseases that will give you a greater possibility of developing severe cases of COVID, if you are affected. So we see a clear relationship between air pollution and the burden of COVID-19 in places that were very polluted.This is an additional reason why now on the recovery post COVID-19, we need to reimagine a greener world with clean sources of energy, a place where we can breathe air that is not killing us. Just to remind all of the people that are listening to us at the moment. 90% of the world population, nine zero percent of the world population, is breathing air that is not respecting the recommended standards by the World Health Organization, the ones that will be protecting our health. Most of the decisions about the reduction of air pollution, they need to come from governments or from mayors, from politicians. But as an individual, I can put pressure on my politicians for them to reduce those levels of air pollution and therefore protecting my life.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Maria. That was Science in 5 today. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.
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