Could air pollution be an indicator to aid businesses and the environment to thrive harmoniously post COVID-19?
Effect of Pollution on Health
The environment has a huge influence on human health. Environmental factors, air, soil and water cause various health issues.
Contaminated water because of pathogens (bacteria, parasites), radiation and chemical pollution (from agrochemical run-off to heavy metal leachate) can cause gastroenteritis, nausea and headache/fatigue. Bioaccumulation of these harmful aquatic substances in the body can cause cancer.
Soil contamination through agrochemicals (pesticides and fertilisers), heavy metal and improper waste disposal methods cause cardiovascular illnesses, nausea and headaches. Noise pollution because of activities above 85 dB can cause hearing loss and tinnitus (constant ringing or a buzzing sound in the ear).
Water contamination, soil and noise pollution are important environmental health hazards. However, this article will focus on air pollution because it’s the principal environmental contributor linked to 8.8 million deaths in 2016. Air pollution comprises the following gases and solids: –
- nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
- sulphur dioxide (SO2)
- ozone (O3)
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)
- carbon monoxide (CO)
- fine particulate matter (PM2.5) ≤ 2.5 micrometres diameter.
Air pollution causes several diseases, including skin irritation, nausea, nerve damage, respiratory illnesses, fatigue and cardiovascular disease.
In Europe, the 6 major contributors to indoor air pollution are smoking and allergens (including pollen). CO and NO2 from vehicles and boilers. Damp conditions in bathrooms and basements are the perfect breeding ground for mould and bacteria. Chemicals used to clean the house and inhalation of radon gas because of the location of the home.
Ambient air pollution caused by agricultural activities, energy production and distribution. Natural phenomena (ash cloud), waste landfills and mining pits as well as road transportation. Half of all PM2.5 and CO emitted is from fuel combustion from households, public offices and businesses.
Changes to Air Pollution During COVID-19
Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) COVID-19 has affected all industries. The global travel, hospitality and tourism industry is one of those most affected since working from home is not an option. Most cities worldwide are on lockdown and 95% of flights grounded. Local and foreign travel has come to a standstill. Even crime rates have fallen. This pause in major industrial activities, transportation and air travel has resulted in an unprecedented decline in pollution.
WHO states that older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.
Air pollution weakens human immune systems, causing respiratory and cardiovascular related illnesses. These underlining ailments make people more susceptible to extreme COVID-19 symptoms.
Post COVID-19 Air Pollution
New Zealand, Finland, Canada, Estonia and Sweden are regularly on the list of top 10 countries that surpass WHO air quality guidelines. #BreatheLife states that 91% of people worldwide do not breathe safe air. Similar to the coronavirus, air pollution does not respect borders. The COVID-19 pandemic displays our global connection. Every country must opt-in and take part in improving air quality for the greater good.
International cooperation is crucial to address global air pollution. Viable AlternativEnergy proposes that governments and business should follow “as low as reasonably practicable” ALARP health, safety and environmental risk management practices. Future investments should support cleaner transport and power generation. Cities must strategically plan safe pedestrian zones, enable cleaner transportation and create green spaces. New homes must be energy efficient. Waste facilities must abide by the waste hierarchy. The agricultural sector must refrain from burning fields and apply low emission techniques when injecting ammonia into the ground. Heavy industry must adopt cleaner technologies and recover flared gases released during fossil fuel production. Multiple collaborations such as these will improve health, reduce pollutants and promote economic development.
Over the past 18 years, we have experienced a greater number of respiratory illnesses caused by the same family of viruses called coronavirus (SARS, MERS and COVID-19). Looking further into the future, we must improve air quality to reduce the underlying illnesses that make people vulnerable to respiratory diseases. Whether we go for isolation or herd immunity, there is a greater chance for success if we all start at a better baseline. We must prioritise air quality going forward.