What can we do about the air we breathe?

Posted by ap507 at Mar 10, 2017 03:09 PM |
Professor Paul Monks discusses how science must be ready for the challenge of mitigating air pollution

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We’re all dying in a noxious haze and smog. There is no doubt that air pollution is a global problem with the World Health Organisation suggesting that 6.5 million people a year die from a combination of indoor and outdoor air pollution.  Air pollution seems to be constantly in the media both in the UK and worldwide. It tops many tables of global environmental concerns.

But there is a new challenge for science and policymakers in this arena.   Much of the focus to date has been on how much and where is the air pollution. Though these remain critical elements in the story as we need to know how much we are being exposed to and how effective any reduction is.

The new challenge I feel is around the mitigation of air pollution. For me, more and more people want to know what I can do about air pollution rather than how much there is. This is a substantial challenge for both science and the way that we translate that science for policymakers. One of the issues that makes air pollution “the persistent menace” is that it is proved intractable in the face of many interventions. No doubt the recent “VW scandal” and the general observation that measures that we thought were in place to reduce air pollution have not, either through deception but also under performance of measures when we apply them in the real world. Therefore, there still remains a substantial challenge around mitigation.

Primarily, mitigation should focus on not releasing air pollutants, it must be easier to stop them entering the atmosphere than it is to try and remove them once they are there. Various pollutant eating paints and clothing have caught the eye, but the physics of the atmosphere often mitigates against their effectiveness.

Looking into the future major mitigation around transport sources will be driven by the move to electric vehicles. We must though, guard against mitigation in different policy areas driving against each other. A classic example being of wood burning encouraged because of its use of renewable energy sources against the air pollution produced from enhanced wood burning particularly in small stoves. Once air pollution gets out looking at other mitigation areas such as the role of trees which are on the whole beneficial in respect of air pollution but not a solution and other more novel methods around paints and surfaces still require serious scientific scrutiny.

Science must be ready for the challenge of mitigating air pollution thinking of new and novel technologies to reduce emissions coupled to enhanced methods of reducing them once they are in the air.

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