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Climate change to quadruple air quality alerts, difficult adaptation in vulnerable U.S. communities

A recent study published within the journal PNAS examines the impact of climate change on air quality alerts in america and explores the strategies of individual adaptation to air pollution.



Study: Health and equity implications of individual adaptation to air pollution in a changing climate. Image Credit: James Andrews1 / Shutterstock

Background

Air pollution is certainly one of the leading causes of severe health complications and premature death worldwide. In america, air pollution has more detrimental effects on vulnerable populations, including racialized people and socioeconomically deprived people.

On days with poor air quality, the US health authorities issue alerts advising people to remain indoors and limit outdoor air exposure for cover. Around 15 – 20% of Americans currently protect themselves from poor air quality by limiting their outdoor activities.

Recent changes in climate conditions have significantly affected air quality globally. Poor air quality not only negatively affects human health but additionally increases healthcare costs. Climate policy can offer significant and equity-improving health advantages by improving air quality. Increasing adaptation to poor air quality may also prevent health complications.

On this study, scientists have explored the impact of climate change on the speed of air quality alerts within the US over this century. They’ve also examined which populations are most affected by poor air quality and the way climate policies can improve adaptation to cut back health risks.

Necessary observations

The study found that the speed of air quality alerts can increase by 4-fold on average by 2100 if the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants (particulate matter) will not be reduced. Air quality alerts could increase by one month per yr by 2100 within the eastern United States, representing the regions with high Black populations and poorly-housed populations.

As mentioned by the scientists, such unequal increases in air quality alerts in these low-income regions can adversely affect the difference capability of vulnerable populations to poor air quality. Poorly structured houses could make the difference less effective and even harmful by letting polluted air infiltrate the homes and reduce indoor air quality.

Air quality alert days per year (ADY) rise in the absence of emission reductions. All plots show air quality alerts (defined as outdoor fine particulate matter levels resulting in an Air Quality Index > 100) for the Reference (REF) climate change scenario. (A) National mean population weighted ADY for 2000, 2050, and 2100. Plots (B–F) show Extra ADY (EADY) in comparison with start-of-century (B) Histogram of EADY in 2100 for population above and below median income. (C/D) Spatial change in EADY in 2050 and 2100. (E) Cumulative density of EADY by race in 2050 and 2100. (F) Cumulative density of EADY by residential leakage rates above (“Leakier”) and below (“Tighter”) the national average. Leakage is defined as air changes per hour at a 50 Pa pressure difference (ACH50), indicating greater infiltration of outside air inside.” class=”rounded-img enlarge-image-child” src=”https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg” srcset=”https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/2000/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 2000w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/1950/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 1950w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/1750/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 1750w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/1550/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 1550w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/1350/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 1350w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/1150/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 1150w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/950/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 950w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/750/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 750w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/550/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 550w, https://d2jx2rerrg6sh3.cloudfront.net/image-handler/ts/20240117072021/ri/450/src/images/news/ImageForNews_769397_17055372176403164.jpg 450w” sizes=”(min-width: 1200px) 673px, (min-width: 1090px) 667px, (min-width: 992px) calc(66.6vw – 60px), (min-width: 480px) calc(100vw – 40px), calc(100vw – 30px)” style=”width: 2000px; height: 982px;” width=”2000″ height=”982″><span style=Air quality alert days per yr (ADY) rise within the absence of emission reductions. All plots show air quality alerts (defined as outdoor positive particulate matter levels leading to an Air Quality Index > 100) for the Reference (REF) climate change scenario. (A) National mean population weighted ADY for 2000, 2050, and 2100. Plots (B–F) show Extra ADY (EADY) in comparison with start-of-century (B) Histogram of EADY in 2100 for population above and below median income. (C/D) Spatial change in EADY in 2050 and 2100. (E) Cumulative density of EADY by race in 2050 and 2100. (F) Cumulative density of EADY by residential leakage rates above (“Leakier”) and below (“Tighter”) the national average. Leakage is defined as air changes per hour at a 50 Pa pressure difference (ACH50), indicating greater infiltration of outside air inside.

Adaptation to air pollution versus mitigation of air pollution

Antagonistic health effects and premature mortality risks related to air pollution could be reduced by reducing exposure to polluted air (adaptation) or reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants (mitigation). These two strategies were compared on this study.

The findings revealed that adaptation offers more advantages than mitigation. Nonetheless, a whole adaptation would require people to remain at home with windows and doors closed for a further 142 days per yr, which might only be achieved at a mean cost of 11,000 USD per person. In contrast, reducing emissions can provide significant annual health advantages at a mean cost of 5,400 USD per person.

The findings also revealed that combining adaptation and mitigation can provide the best total advantages. The mix of those strategies could reduce the effectiveness of every strategy when used alone.

Although the study evaluation indicated that mitigation is less expensive than adaptation, it stays highly uncertain to what extent mitigation of air pollution is feasible and the way it would ultimately affect outdoor air pollutants. These uncertainties demand for an induction of individual adaptation.

Regarding the advantages of adaptation, the study found a mean good thing about 31 USD per person per hour for adults aged 30 years and above. Thus, an appropriate adaptation policy and mitigation strategies are needed to effectively and equitably protect general and vulnerable populations from air pollution.

In line with the study findings, adaptation might be more helpful for individuals who live in polluted areas, work or live in high-quality buildings, or don’t value their outdoor time despite repeatedly spending time outdoors. Moreover, the study projected that folks who never spend time outdoors, live in poorly structured houses, or highly value their outdoor time wouldn’t profit from additional adaptation.

Overall, the study indicates that recent policies are needed to extend adaptation rates and maximize protection from air pollution. Recent policies could compensate people for moving indoors, improve house quality, provide measures for individuals who work or live outdoors, and increase awareness about air quality alerts and adaptation strategies.

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