Practical advice to protect yourself from pollution in your city

Practical advice to protect yourself from pollution in your city

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Walking down a parallel street, instead of the main one with the most traffic, reduces exposure to pollution by 53% on average, according to a study by Kings College in London.

The air we breathe is increasingly polluted, according to the World Health Organization.

Air pollution in the air causes about seven million deaths a year globally, according to WHO, and the effect is worse in children.

Every day about 93% of children under 15 years old in the world breathe contaminated air, according to the report last year of the WHO “Air Pollution and Child Health”.

Toxic particles in the air can not only trigger diseases such as asthma, but affect lung capacity and cognitive development of children.

The WHO estimates that in 2016 alone about 600,000 children died of acute respiratory infections caused by contaminated air.

And in adults, one third of deaths from strokes, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution, according to the WHO.

Despite the immensity of the challenge, several experts agree that there are simple and effective actions you can take to reduce your exposure to pollutants in the air.

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Avoid the streets with more traffic and the “urban canyons”

A 2017 study by King’s College, one of the faculties of the University of London, found that going down a parallel street, instead of the main one with more traffic, reduces exposure to pollution by 53% on average and in some cases up to 60% .

Street with tall buildings
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Image caption Urban canyons. “We recommend avoiding streets with tall buildings because they trap pollution,” said Pippa Powell, director of the European Lung Foundation.

At a distance of between 50 and 100 meters, depending on the type of pollutant, the concentration of toxic particles falls to at least half.

It also tries to avoid the so-called “urban canyons”, the streets with tall buildings on both sides.

We recommend avoiding streets with tall buildings because they trap pollution,” Pippa Powell, director of the European Lung Foundation , told the BBC .

Beware of the busiest time

“If you can not avoid the streets with more traffic, try to adjust as much as possible what time you walk in them,” said Powell.

In general, pollution levels are lower before peak hours than even hours after it.

I used to bike by a street with traffic.
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Image caption “If you can not avoid the streets with more traffic, try to adjust as much as possible what time you walk in them.”

Cars stuck in traffic with engines running make rush hour particularly damaging to health.

“We generally advise you to leave your house early,” Powell said, although he clarified that the recommendation may vary depending on the city, so you should always check the alerts in your own area.

Protect the children!

Babies and younger children may be exposed to up to 60% more pollutants than adults , according to a study published last year by the Global Center for Clean Air Research at the University of Surrey , In England.

Being closer to the ground because of its height , children are closer to the exhaust pipes.

 

Child in a baby cart on the street with a balloon
Copyright picture HUW EVANS PICTURE AGENCY
Image caption Young children and babies are by their height closer to the emissions from the exhaust pipes.

The height at which children breathe in baby strollers is between 0.55 meters and 0.85 meters according to the study.

Pollution levels are higher in the first meter from the ground, so the impact of toxic metal particles that can affect the development of children is greater.

Tailpipe
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Image caption “In the first meter above the ground is the highest concentration of tailpipe emissions,” Prashant Kumar told BBC News.

“This first meter above the ground is where the highest concentration of emissions from exhaust pipes is,” Prashant Kumar, one of the authors of the study, told BBC News.

“When you consider how vulnerable children are because their tissues, immune systems and brain development are in early stages of development, it is extremely worrisome that they are exposed to these dangerous levels of contamination,” he added.

The authors of the study recommend avoiding busy streets and using the covers in baby strollers to reduce exposure to polluted air.

 

Child with a nebulizer
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Image caption Toxic particles in the air can not only trigger diseases such as asthma, but also affect the lung capacity and cognitive development of children, warned the WHO.

If you have children at school, ask your children’s school to reduce exposure to school bus emissions, recommends the American Lung Association, American Lung Association .

The same association points out that schools should never allow buses to be immobile with the engine running near the school, he adds.

Older adults should also take special care

“As we age, the ability of the human body to compensate for the effects of environmental hazards is reduced,” says airnow.gov, from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Elderly couple
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Image caption “As we age, the ability of the human body to compensate for the effects of environmental hazards is reduced,” says the airnow.gov site of the US government.

Air pollution aggravates heart disease and stroke , lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and diabetes.

The above advice is especially important in the case of older adults.

Verify ads every day

Get used to checking daily reports on pollution in your city. The levels can vary a lot from one day to the next.

“Being aware of pollution rates in your area is particularly important for the most vulnerable people who have asthma or COPD Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease ),” Powell said.

If you have access to apps that measure the levels and worst points of contamination in real time, get used to using them.

Mujere with a mask and a cell phone that shows the level of gross particles of contamination or PM10.

 

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Image caption Some apps measure the levels of coarse and fine pollution particles in real time.
Man walking next to traffic in Mexico
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Image caption“As individuals there is much we can do to improve our exposure to pollutants,” Powell said.

There are also personal sensors that you can use with your phone, which monitor the levels of particulate pollutants and nitrogen dioxide.

However, the US Environmental Protection Agency warned that this technology is in its initial cover and the measurements you get with these sensors may not be accurate.

Plan when and where you exercise

Avoid outdoor exercise during peak hours and when pollution levels are high. And if you use your bike avoid the streets with more traffic.

When the contamination is high, the United States Pulmonary Association recommends that you do not run or walk outside but in a gym or a shopping mall.

Woman resting after exercising on the street
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Image caption Avoid outdoor exercise during peak hours and when pollution levels are high.

Also limit the time your children spend playing outdoors.

The accelerated rate of breathing during exercise means that more contaminant particles reach the lungs.

Do not allow anyone to smoke inside your house

It is a recommendation included among the 10 most important tips to protect yourself from the contamination of the American Lung Association.

Child next to an adult smoking
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Image caption“Quitting smoking is the priority, especially if you have children,” Powell said.

“If you smoke, or if you live with someone who smokes and is a passive smoker, this is a bigger concern than the pollution outside,” Pippa Powell pointed out.

“Quitting smoking is the priority, especially if you have children.”

Watch your diet

Polluting particles can deprive your body of antioxidants.

Powell notes that the European Lung Association does not give recommendations on diet because there are still no conclusive studies.

Fruits and vegetables
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption One study found that the consumption of fruits and vegetables has a beneficial effect on the inflammatory response. But more studies are needed on the connection between diet and pollution.

Among the works that exist, a British investigation of 2018 ( T Whyand et al ) found evidence that carotenoids, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin C, among others, can protect against certain damages.

Another 2009 research on minors in Mexico, led by Isabelle Romieu (National Institute of Public Health) and colleagues, noted:

“Our results suggest that the consumption of fruits and vegetables and adherence to a Mediterranean diet has a beneficial effect on the inflammatory response and lung function of children with asthma in Mexico City.”

Are the masks useful?

“We do not give recommendations on masks because there are no conclusive studies,” Powell said.

“The World Health Organization did a great review of different types of masks and will publish their results shortly.”

Man with mask in a kiosk on the street in Mexico
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Image caption Researchers in Edinburgh found that masks that are not extremely tight on the face are not very effective.

A study by the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, evaluated nine types of masks worn by Beijing residents.

One of the biggest problems is that in order to be effective, the masks must be extremely well adjusted to the face, something that usually does not happen.

The researchers found that the “leak”, that is, the entrance of contaminated air inside the mask, varied between 7% and 66% in periods of activity and between 3% and 68% during sedentary tasks.

Support the rules in your city

As individuals, there is much we can do to improve our exposure to pollutants, Powell concluded.

In addition to following the advice on avoiding polluted streets, “if you walk, use your bicycle or an electric car instead of a conventional car, you will contribute to improve the air quality in your city”.

Exhaust pipe of a diesel truck that releases soot
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Image caption Limiting the circulation of trucks and cars, especially diesel, is a frequent measure to lower the level of pollution in the center of cities.

“It is also important that people support initiatives in their cities, which regulate, for example, what license plates can enter the city center on certain days.”

“It can be frustrating for drivers, but we must understand that thanks to these measures we will all have better lung health.”

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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