Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Canadian History of Air Pollution

Photo credit: Trail Historical Society

Clean air is a common-good resource, freely available to all. As air pollution knows no bounds, Canada, in a sense, created the concept of Trans-Boundary Air Pollution. Air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are harmful compounds released into the atmosphere, primarily through industrial manufacturing of goods. Transboundary air pollution occurs when the concentration is released into the atmosphere and crosses borders, impacting neighboring countries.

A dispute involving the Teck Cominco Smelter in Trail, British Columbia (B.C.) made international environmental law history when the case was decided in 1941. After the company significantly increased the size of its smoke stacks, the resulting unintended consequence created toxic air from the metal refinery, which negatively impacted farmers in neighboring Washington State. The outcome is regarded as international environmental laws most foundational decisions, as it helped to form the polluter-pays principle, making a state responsible for the damaging effects it has on another territory. The case’s arbitration also helped solidify the “Good neighborliness” custom to enhance diplomacy.

In 1987, Canada hosted a United Nations conference in Montreal, Quebec to tackle the alarming effects of Ozone depletion. The delegates of the convention adopted an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. This accord, now shared between 142 countries, saw the international regulation limiting the production, trade and use of 8 Ozone depleting substances (ODS), such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, and carbon tetrachloride. This agreement has since expanded to cover 96 substances. More importantly, the Montreal Protocol not only united the politicians from nations around the world, but also gained overwhelming public and media support, as well as industry buy-in.
The Montreal protocol is considered a huge success, as 96 harmful ODS have virtually been eliminated. These substances were also contributing to climate change. The ozone layer is now slowly recovering, largely thanks to the work by those behind the Montreal Protocol.

Guruswamy, L.D., (2012). International Environmental Law: In a nutshell, (4th ed.). Saint Paul, MN: West.

United Nations. (2006). Trail smelter case (United States, Canada). Reports of International Arbitral Awards, 3. pp. 1905-1982. 16 April 1938 and 11 March 1941. Washington, DC. Retrieved from:

United Nations Development Program. (2017). Montreal Protocol. Sustainable Development Program, Environmental and Natural Capital. New York, NY. Retrieved from:

Can we do anything?

In addition to traffic, vehicles, population and old cars emissions there are other types of emissions that add to the air pollution in Iran. One of them is the emission caused by heating systems and air conditioners used in buildings, the director of Iran's Department of Environment has invited everyone to participate in a challenge which would help to reduce the amount of emissions casued by these heating systems. Her challenge is to set the temperature to at most 18 degrees Celsius inside the corridors and about 21 degrees inside the rooms. Hopefully this would be a movement everyone participates in and help in cutting the pollution. However, this is just “one” way to help.
The other ways that can help are more usage of public transportation since most people drive their own car to work! Other things that need to be done are more standards, regulations and inspections on cars and especially old ones. We still have very old buses driving around emitting clouds of dark soot out but we can also see the modern clean ones too.
This is how beautiful Tehran can look like 

Is it the gasoline?

What is exactly causing all these pollution in Iran?
Usually a layer of smug covers Tehran, the capitol of Iran and most of the other great cities. The great Alborz mountains go underneath a blanket of soot. Eyes burn and its hard to breathe. There are a couple of major contributing factors to air pollution in Iran. The greatest factor is the traffic. There are more cars in the streets than there is room in the narrow streets. Most of the time, the highways look like parking lots when you look at them from above; not moving for hours in the evening times. Therefore, pumping a ton of exhaust into the air. Iran is under US sanctions and has to produce its own cheap gasoline and produce toxic formulations to keep the millions number of vehicles going. In addition to the low fuel quality, there is not much regulation and inspection going on over the older cars.

The other factor is the population growth. Each family member usually has their own car and when you drive in the streets you can see there's usually only one person in each car.
According to the discussion above, traffic and fuel are the most important elements of air pollution crisis in Iran and politicians keep arguing with each other about whether it is about lack of laws and standards or if it is about implementation of the laws.

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You need to stay home

There have been times when I myself, had to skip school and stay home because of the bad weather, which honestly was something that used to make me happy, I could sleep in and not go to school for couple of days sometimes! But I was just a kid back then.
Children are more sensitive and vulnerable to air pollutants due to their physiological immaturity. It has been said that every year about 600,000 children under the age of five die due to air pollution around the world. UNICEF has also reported that one of every seven children live in the most toxic areas in terms of air pollution.

The air pollution in Iran and especially in Tehran sometimes hits the urgent alarming level and shuts down schools and cancels any sort of outdoor activity such as soccer games! Children and elderly are urged to stay home otherwise they need to wear face masks to the streets. It has been said that the air pollution threatens the lives of 11.5 million children in Iran.
Cities other than Tehran also are suffering from air pollution especially that some border with other countries and get hit by a lot of dust storms and temperature usually rises above 40 degrees Celsius on top of that.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Air Pollution Solutions

Despite having advanced technology, not everyone has access to the same resources. Sadly, the people who need to be aware are often the ones who aren’t. When it comes to air pollution, there are many ways to help attack the problem and it starts by talking about it.

Informing the public of how bad the air continues to get, would be a start. Although it may seem that the citizens of India should know by now the living conditions they’re enduring – some have become accustom to this way of living. Wearing a face mask can only do so much but prolong the health effects that will begin to show soon, such as (but notlimited to); Lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and an increase risk for acute respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma.
Another way to help fight this dilemma is to educate health professionals through training programs, or other organizations. This way, they are better equipped with knowledge regarding diseases that people are beginning to show.

Most importantly, the government needs to take action so that the citizens feel the urge to do follow. There’s news that, “a $20 million finance initiative to help fund renewable energy in India – though it’s unclear whether that initiative will remain under President-elect Trump, who has pledged to ‘cancel all wasteful climate change spending’” as reported by Think Progress. 

Of course another option, is for the local citizens to start taking action within their own lives. That's very true. How can this be down when residents of India who are already on the low socioeconomic status spectrum have odds stacked against them? 

India: Choking on air

Over the last year, schools in New Delhi have begun to close. Due to the poor quality of air throughout India, smog, dust, and other chemicals continue to add to the already hazardous air. When it comes to air quality, it’s no secret that New Delhi is one of the most lethal cities in the world. This doesn’t take away from the fact that everyone in India is in danger of illnesses, which may lead to premature deaths. This fear has caused government officials to close down an estimated 1,800 schools – meaning that about a million students are missing out on their education. 

Another major issue are the health concerns that are rising. Burning eyes, coughing, and other symptoms are appearing more and more often. This is more frequent among kids, and the elderly. Unfortunately, those who are too poor to relocate are also being affected. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) global urban air quality database, “About 98% of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet norms set out in the WHO air quality guidelines”

A recent study found that annually, “direct and indirect costs of chronic lung disease in India to be between $800-$1400 – India’s median per capita income is only about $600”. What will happen to these citizens' health as the air pollution continues to damage their organs? How will an entire country deal with this financially? Are we next?

Air pollution, inflammation and preterm birth in Mexico City

Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of perinatal mortality and is associated with long-term adverse health consequences for surviving infants. Preterm birth rates are rising worldwide, and no effective means for prevention currently exists. Air pollution exposure may be a significant cause of prematurity, but many published studies lack the individual, clinical data needed to elucidate possible biological mechanisms mediating these epidemiological associations.

We are enrolling a cohort of 800 pregnant women living in Mexico City. These women, who reside in diverse regions of metropolitan Mexico City, are seen monthly over the course of their pregnancy, clinical and behavioral information gathered, and pro-and anti-inflammatory cytokines in monthly cervico-vaginal exudates and blood samples assayed

Preterm birth is a major public health problem of global consequence which may be influenced by exposure to air pollution. Therefore, understanding the mediating inflammatory and infectious pathways, using study designs such as the one described here, would provide further insights on mechanistic pathways linking pollution to adverse birth outcomes and potentially inform prevention efforts. 

Air pollution and preterm birth in Mexico City: summary of data collection
Air pollution and preterm birth in Mexico City: summary of data collection.