September 13, 2022

Why Forest Fire & Air Pollution Particulate Matter Is Bad For You

In the United Kingdom one in ten cases of lung cancer is caused by exposure to fine particulate matter called PM2.5 found in air pollution. Wearing an N-95 mask correctly fitted can mitigate that exposure.

But here’s why this particulate matter found in pollution and forest fires is so dire.

Scientist  Charles Swanton has figured out that while solar exposure or smoking can mutate DNA associated with skin and lung cancer, air pollution does not. Instead, Professor Swanton has discovered that air pollution activates dormant mutations in cells within the lungs, and programs them to become cancer.

Air pollution includes that from forest fires. Very minute particulate matter called PM2.5 is the most worrisome health concern from wildfire smoke because it can enter the bloodstream and be ingested into the lungs.  You can take a look at the diagram below to see how small those particles are.

The risk of lung cancer from air pollution is lower than from smoking, but we have no control over what we all breathe,” said Prof Charles Swanton of the Francis Crick Institute, who presented the findings at the European Society for Medical Oncology conference in Paris,” as reported in this article by Hannah Devlin in The Guardian.

Statistically more people live in areas with high air pollution than to  cigarette smoke exposure, and the implications of this study on well being show the need to lower exposure to particulate matter.

The study included data from 400,000 people in Great Britain and Asia and looked at the different levels of lung cancer and the implications of living in areas with higher levels of PM.2.5.

The numbers are staggering-99 percent of the world’s population lives in areas that exceed the limits set up by the World Health Organization for PM2.5 exposure, and figures suggest that nine million premature deaths are due to air pollution.

In 2013 a coroner set a precedent by declaring that the death of nine year old  Ella Kissi-Debra in London was due to air pollution. It is also clear that pollution disportionately impacts minorities and people living in mid and high rise buildings along major arteries.

We plan neighbourhoods that way, not allowing mid rise buildings with families to be embedded within the heart of  neighbourhoods by parks, community centres and schools.  Instead higher density housing is located along the arterials close to the heaviest traffic.

Besides mitigating air pollution, a policy approach  to “air pollution driving health inequalities” would be to carefully site higher density buildings with families and children away from major streets, fronting recreation areas, parks and schools.

That is one good point about road taxes and congestion fees.

In Stockholm data shows that if it  had not introduced congestion pricing “its air would have been five to ten percent more polluted between 2006 and 2010, and young children would have suffered 45 percent more asthma attacks.” 

While benefits were 12 per cent during the initial trial period of congestion prices, they increased to 45 per cent over the cumulative years.


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