[:en]Air pollution has a significant impact on the health of Europeans, particularly in urban areas. It also has a considerable economic impact, cutting lives short, increasing medical costs and reducing productivity through working days lost across the economy. Europe’s most troublesome pollutants is particulate matter – PM – and nitrogen oxygen – NOx -.

A chilling scenario has shown in the interview of Julia Gogolewska (Senior coal policy officer at the Health and Enviroment Alliance, HEAL) : estimates of the health impact attributable to exposure to air pollution indicate that PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less) concentrations in 2013 were responsible for about 467 000 premature deaths originating from long-term exposure in Europe, of which around 436 000 were in the EU-28. This is the reason why we firmly believe that it is worthwhile taking notice of these elements.

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in Europe. Recent estimates suggest that the disease burden resulting from air pollution is substantial. Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death due to air pollution and are responsible for 80% of cases of premature death – an extremely high percentage. Lung diseases and lung cancer follow. In addition to causing premature death, air pollution increases the incidence of a wide range of diseases, such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer, with both long- and short-term health effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified air pollution in general as carcinogenic. As we can see from the emerging literature, air pollution is also associated with health impacts on fertility, pregnancy, and newborns and children. These include negative effects on neural development and cognitive capacities, which in turn can affect performance at school and later in life, leading to lower. Studies show that air pollution has an incidence on type 2 diabetes in adults, and may be linked to obesity and dementia. While air pollution is harmful to all population, some people suffer more because they live in polluted areas and are exposed to higher levels of air pollution, or they are more vulnerable to the health problems caused by air pollution.

To sum up, it is clear that air pollution is a problem affecting everybody health and, consequently, life. This is why it is important for you to know and, possibly, monitor the quality of the air you breath every day in your daily activities and try to lower the levels of pollution. We all should be aware of the effects that our personal choices have on the quality of our lives. 

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GETTING TO KNOW THE POLLUTERS

There are different air pollutants: liquid and solid substances, different gases like carbon monoxide – CO -, but especially, as we have already mentioned, nitrogen oxides – NOx – and particulate matters – PM -. This can sound pretty abstract if you don’t have a degree in chemistry, nonetheless they are more real than you might think because they make up the air that you breathe. Let’s take a closer look!

PM is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air. When we refer to NOx, we indicate two of the main pollutants: nitrogen monoxide – NO – and nitrogen dioxide – NO2 -.
NO is made of nitrogen, which is in the air, and atmospheric oxygen. They react together during high-temperature process like combustion and generate NO, nitrogen oxide → N2 + O2 = 2NO
Once NO is formed, it interacts with the oxygen during the cooling process of flue gas, exceeding in a combustion process and generate nitrogen dioxide → 2NO + O2 = 2NO2

Ozone is a secondary pollutant, coming from the reaction between other pollutants, especially nitrogen dioxide – NO2 -. It’s does not originate from car emissions, but it is created indirectly by it. If you look at the particles there is also a component called black carbon. It consists of small particles made of elementary carbon loaded with lots of other pollutants, especially aromatic hydrocarbons. For example benzene and other organic pollutants that are often loaded with these black carbon particles, including metals coming from the combustion.  

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INTERACTIONS BETWEEN THE POLLUTANTS THAT YOU SHOULD PROBABLY BE AWARE OF

So how do PM and NOx have an effect on other pollutants? This is quite complicated for the average folk but we had the chance to talk with Julia Gogolewska (HEAL) : “what comes out from the exhaust is a mixture of NO and NO2, so nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide and these two have a balance between each others. The more sunlight you get the more NO2 is forming the free radicals“. So actually to get to ozone, for which the NO2 is a precursor you need sunlight. Under the effect of sunlight you have this kind of shifted balance and you get much more of NO, the nitrogen monoxide and a free radical of oxygen which forms the ozone. “There is also another phenomenon going on”, she added, “in the centre where you have the highest traffic exposure at the same time you have more of this nitrogen monoxide and this is again reacting with ozone forming nitrogen dioxide, so at the same time it’s taking away the ozone which has been formed. So ozone tend to be high in certain time of the day in urban city, whereas in sub-urban areas you can have the ozone for a longer time, because there isn’t the process which takes the ozone away“.

We understand that this can have no apparent meaning you the reader. Honestly it was difficult to grasp the major implication but one important thing can be understood: once these elements are emitted in the atmosphere it becomes impossible to control them and many different factors come into play. The damages caused by them are not avoidable. This is why we call for a more aware use of our cars and how they impair our environment.

Similar conclusions can be drawn for the small particles, – PM -. Even though it is very well known that the particles are much more stable in the atmosphere, we must know that they will be transported with wind depending on what are the weather conditions. It is therefore impossible to pin down in advance where the major effects of air pollution will take place, since they have this tendency to travel long distances.

There is no connection between polluter and person negatively affected and that means that, in economical terms, there is no one paying for the negative externalities imposed on society. This call for a higher responsibility imposed on car manufacturers mainly, but also car owners.

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AM I IN DANGER?

All the above-mentioned air pollutants produced by car emissions have a different impacts on the environment and body. For the particles it’s more pronounced the long-term health effects, whereas from ozone and nitrogen dioxide you have more than short-term health effects. You can feel them very much at the moment of exposure and the next few hours but recent researches have also pointed to long term effects of ozone.

It is useful to know some symptoms that may have become a norm to you are caused by the air that you breathe. We spoke to Julia Gogolewska to find out more about the health effects’ of air pollution. She explained to us that if you inhale the particles you will not really feel that much, you would maybe feel tired and you may be more prone for infections, but if you’re exposed to ozone and nitrogen dioxide, it really has this irritating effect to your lungs. There is a very quick onset of inflammation and ozone is mostly felt from people who have already some kind of health conditions, like people with asthma or with chronic lung disease and they would really feel the difficulty of breathing with cough and tiredness. Furthermore, also eyes and noise can be irritated. You have this irritation that you’re not able to inhale fully because the airways are constrained a little bit. So If you’re a person who already has problems, like asthma or bronchitis, then you will feel maybe even more pronounced the fact that you cannot inhale fully. In addition you can have headaches. 

Now new studies are more interested in calculating the mortality as a cause of these particles, even though it is such a difficult task to achieve and the results are never clear-cut, rather being estimates. Even if they are not easy to be calculated, it doesn’t imply they don’t exist. It would be wise to bear in mind that air pollution has very likely many far reaching detrimental effects on our health that scientists haven’t been able to prove yet. Protecting yourself and the people around you. Here is why we see it as an ethical and clear choice!

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