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Towards the Integrated Study of Urban Climate, Air Pollution, and Public Health

by Jennifer Salmond, Clive E. Sabel ID and Sotiris Vardoulakis

Air pollution is not only toxic to the human body but also interacts with climate. Short lived climate pollutants (SLCP), such as black carbon and ozone, can exacerbate climate change, altering the frequency, duration, and location of heat waves and cold spells, storm intensity, precipitation patterns, and, possibly, ultra-violet radiation exposure, indirectly threatening urban lives and livelihoods. On the other hand, a warmer climate can have an impact on biogenic volatile organic compound emissions, the rate of atmospheric chemical reactions, and the depth of the atmospheric boundary layer, which all affect surface pollutant concentrations. 

The high probability of climate change that presents significant challenges to the future resilience of urban areas and the protection of public health, as urban populations are projected to be exposed to higher temperatures than are currently experienced. One of the keys to managing air pollution, climate change, and public health concerns effectively in urban areas is to improve our understanding of the ways in which urban land use affects human health outcomes.

Healthy-Polis (International Consortium for Urban Environmental Health & Sustainability) special issue on Urban Climate, Air Pollution, and Public Health has been published in Climate and is now available online (open access) at: 

Air quality affects the lifespan of individuals

People in China are dying three years early because of airborne particulates, which are also impacting the health of people around the world 

(see lost years in: 2017, Nature Vol. 551, 291-293)

Atmospheric chemistry affects the lifespan of air pollutants. Linking these effects is far from straightforward, for several reasons. The outdoor air pollution has many sources. Residential heating and cooking, especially using fuel stoves and fires in low-income countries, have the greatest impact on mortality. These explain roughly 1.35 million deaths per year. Agriculture has the next biggest impact, contributing to one-fifth of deaths— largely through ammonia released by manure and fertilizer use, which combines with sulfate and nitrate in the air to form ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate and thus PM2.5. Power generation, industry and traffic also contribute to ozone and PM2.5. Pollutants interact with one another also emissions can be blown in from other continents

Transboundary health impacts of PM2.5 pollution associated with international trade are greater than those associated with long-distance atmospheric pollutant transport. 

Zhang et al (Nature, 2017)