Air Pollution a Major Driver of Ill-Health Worldwide

Written by Kirtly Jones, MD, UPHE Board Member

“Air pollution is now the world’s fourth-leading risk factor for early death according to the State of Global Air Report 2020”  

UPHE has been very active in trying to inform people about the risks of air pollution and how we can make personal and political decisions to improve our health.  2020 was a tough year across the globe, but the American West has felt the significant impact of poor air quality from forest fires.  These fires, the majority of them caused by persons and aggravated by climate change, have made air quality front and center in the concerns of Americans in the West.  Air flow across the country brought high levels of air pollution to the Midwest and even to the Atlantic seaboard.

The State of Global Air 2020 report highlighted the adverse effects of air pollution on pregnancy (prematurity and low birthweight) and early life (increased risk to diseases and asthma). Pregnant women and infants are particularly at risk of adverse effects of indoor air pollution as well as outdoor air pollution.  In the US, we rarely use solid fuel for cooking (except for barbeques) and heating (except for wood fires) but we should be especially aware of the adverse effects on our loved ones in the home and people in our neighborhood. We should NOT use solid fuels for cooking and heating.  UPHE has been actively working with communities to help phase out wood fireplaces for heating in Summit County, Utah.

As we think about our health and the health of our community it is past time to look at where “responsibility” meets “rights”.  The right to target practice with your rifle on public land ends with the responsibility to NOT start a grass fire that will endanger human lives. The right to have a wood fire in your fireplace ends at the top of your chimney where the responsibility NOT to pollute your neighbor’s air starts.  The right to drive a polluting car or truck ends at your tailpipe where your responsibility to the air others breathe begins.  The right of an industry to make a profit ends at the top of their smokestack where the responsibility NOT to make people sick begins. The legislature’s focus on individual rights to pollute ends at their legislative responsibility to protect public health.  We can all do better and our children’s future is at stake.