Skip to main content

The Return of Air Quality

eiffel_towerAside from China, which got quite a showcase during the Olympics, the topic of air quality has percolated quietly in the background for years. It was the environmental issue during the late 1960s and concerns about it led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the first revisions to the 1962 Clean Air Act (in 1970 and 1977). The Clean Water Act followed in 1972 – not about air quality, of course, but part of this wave of environmental consciousness.

These issues have never gone away, though they did slide into neglect as rain forests, recycling and climate change captured the public imagination. With a number of new reports focusing on the dire impacts of climate change, it would seem of a piece if heightened concern about air quality should return to the fore.

But if it is going to return, it needs a spur - a book, a movie – maybe a database.

Because that’s what it got. The World Health Organization has chosen this moment to update (and promote) its urban ambient air quality database.

The WHO database covers 1600 cities across 91 countries – 500 more cities than the previous database (2011), revealing that more cities worldwide are monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting growing recognition of air pollution’s health risks.

According to the database, only 12 per cent of the people living in cities reporting on air quality reside in cities where that air quality complied with WHO guideline levels. About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends - putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.

What’s sad is that the reason this may bring the issue back to the fore is that the news embedded in that database is alarming. And alarming always plays better, doesn’t it?

From The Times of India:

A day after World Health Organization's latest urban air quality database showed that Delhi has the worst air quality among 1,600 cities in 91 countries, government officials chose to split hairs over the published numbers while environmentalists stressed that the country should get on with addressing air quality concerns urgently.

From The Guardian:

British towns and cities have been named and shamed by the World Health Organization for breaching safety levels for air pollution.

Nine urban areas in the UK have been named by the global health body for breaching safe health levels of air quality.

From The New Zealand Herald:

A new global report on air quality has featured 17 New Zealand centers among 1600 worldwide cities, with Timaru, Christchurch and Rotorua turning in the poorest national results for air pollution. [New Zealand actually did pretty well.]

This is where we should be talking about the manifest contribution nuclear energy can make to mitigate bad air – and it’s true, it can. It doesn’t burn fossil fuel and has no negative impact on air quality at all. The same can be said of renewable energy and hydro power. Still, while this is a problem on which nuclear energy can have an impact, it’s not enough in itself.

From Le Monde:

Le seuil maximum fixé par l'OMS est de 20 microgrammes par mètre cube (µg/m3) pour la concentration moyenne annuelle de particules fines PM10 (d'un diamètre égal ou inférieur à 10 micromètres) dans l'air. Il est largement dépassé dans de nombreuses grandes métropoles. Avec des records beaucoup plus élevés que ceux enregistrés, par exemple, lors des récents pics de pollution à Paris, en mars 2014 (100 µg/m3).

Rough translation (by me –very rough indeed):

The maximum threshold set by WHO is 20 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) for an average annual concentration of PM10 (diameter less than or equal to 10 micrometers) in the air. It is widely exceeded in many major cities. Much higher numbers were reached locally, for example, during recent pollution peaks in Paris in March 2014 (100 ug/m3).

Paris banned cars every other day during a couple of weeks last year. Nuclear energy makes a real difference, but in “driving” cities like Paris, you wouldn’t know it. We’ve mentioned before that nuclear energy and electric/hybrid cars are a killer combination and this is why.

The U.N. makes a few mild comments on potential solutions:

Some cities are making notable improvements - demonstrating that air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for “space heating” in buildings, using renewable or “clean” fuels for electricity production, and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.

“We can win the fight against air pollution and reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and heart disease, as well as lung cancer,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

And that means air quality may become a generally discussable issue again. That would be for the good – for nuclear energy, certainly, and for the world.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…