Asians breathe 9 times more pollution than people in Europe, US
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Asians breathe 9 times more pollution than people in Europe, US

DRIVERS in Asia’s urban centres are exposed to up to nine times more air pollution than their counterparts in Europe or the United States, a new study has found.

Research by the Global Centre for Clean Research (CGARE) published in the scientific journal Atmospheric Environment last week looked at levels of airborne pollution in micro-environments – walking, driving, cycling, motorbike riding and bus riding – across Asia.

Researchers analysed the levels of black carbon fine particles such as those produced by diesel and gasoline as well as ultra-fine participles (UFP), those small enough to travel deep into one’s lungs.

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They found that pedestrians in Asian cities were exposed to up to 1.6 times the amount of damaging fine particle pollution compared to pedestrians in Europe or the US. Drivers, however, were even more at risk – exposed to up to nine times more pollution than Europeans or Americans.

“There is compelling evidence that people travelling in urban areas in Asian cities are being exposed to a significantly higher level of air pollution,” said Professor Prashant Kumar, Director of CGARE and a lead author of the study.

Researchers found that New Delhi has rates of black carbon concentration inside cars up to five times greater than in Europe or the US.


Traffic moves in front of the landmark India Gate monument enveloped by a blanket of smog, caused by a mixture of pollution and fog, in New Delhi, India. Source: AP

Their study showed that in Hong Kong, levels of UFP were up to four times that of cities in Europe.

“A noticeable gap still exists in studies that focus on the Asian population living in rural, semi-rural or smaller cities, where pollution exposure could be as harmful as in urban areas owing to several unattended sources,” added Kumar.

The World Health Organization has said that 91 percent of the world’s premature deaths due to air pollution occur in low and middle income countries – particularly those in Asia. Air pollution is attributed to causing heart disease, strokes, acute lower respiratory infections and lung cancer.

The greatest burden of outdoor air pollution is felt in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region – encompassing China, Japan, the Koreas, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

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Another of the CGARE study’s co-authors Professor Chris Frey of North Carolina State University, said that “there are increasing efforts in Asia to install properly designed and calibrated portable monitoring systems to measure actual exposures, using the data to better understand why high exposures occur and how to prevent them.”

“These measurements of personal exposures will help individuals, businesses, and governments to develop and implement strategies to reduce such exposures.”

A number of Asian city governments have already implemented significant measures to reduce vehicle pollution. Beijing, for example, aims to cap the total number of vehicles on its roads to 6.3 million by the end of 2020 and has invested extensively in public transport.