Air pollution is a major issue plaguing today’s environment. A recent study has revealed shocking news- almost no place on earth is safe from PM2.5, fine particulate matter that can get into your lungs and cause respiratory conditions.
A Monash University study found that only .18% of the entire global area and .0001% of the worldwide population is exposed to PM2.5 at a level the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed safe.
While daily levels have gone down in Europe and North America over the past decades, they have increased in Southern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, and the Caribbean. As a result, people across the world will be exposed to unsafe levels of PM2.5 on 70% of days.
Previously, a lack of pollution monitoring stations has led to little data on PM2.5 exposure on regional, national, and global levels. But this recent study, which was led by Professor Yuming Guo from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, and published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, provides a map of how PM2.5 levels have changed over the past decades.
The research team utilized traditional air quality monitoring observations, satellite-based meteorological and air pollution detectors, and statistical and machine learning methods to accurately measure the amount of PM2.5 in the air worldwide.
In addition to determining areas of the world where PM2.5 increased and decreased, the study also found that:
- Despite decreases, most areas of the world were still exposed to PM2.5 at unsafe levels on more than 70% of days.
- Southern Asia and Eastern Asia saw unsafe levels of PM2.5 on more than 90% of days.
- Australia and New Zealand saw a considerable increase in PM2.5 concentration over the past decades up to 2019.
- The annual average of PM2.5 globally was more than twice the level deemed safe between 2000 and 2019.
- The highest concentrations of PM2.5 were found in Eastern Asia followed by Southern Asia and then northern Africa.
- Australia and New Zealand had the lowest annual PM2.5 concentrations followed by Oceania and southern America.
- Only 18% of the global land area and .0001% of the global population were exposed to PM2.5 below the recommended limit.
The study also revealed that PM2.5 concentrations differed according to season. Northeast China and North India showed higher concentrations during their winter months (December, January, and February) whereas eastern areas of northern America had higher concentrations during their summer months (June, July, and August).
There were also high rates of pollution in South America in August and September. Sub-Saharan Africa saw PM2.5 levels rise from June to September.
So why is this study important?
“It provides a deep understanding of the current state of outdoor pollution and its impacts on human health. With this information, policymakers, public health officials, and researchers can better assess the short-term and long-term effects of air pollution and develop air pollution mitigation strategies,” said Guo.