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Cleaning air in South Asia: researchers propose innovative strategies

Fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, is a hazardous air pollutant emitted from a variety of sources, including

By Ground Report
New Update
Cleaning air in South Asia: researchers propose innovative strategies

Fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, is a hazardous air pollutant emitted from a variety of sources, including wood burning, electricity generation, and motor vehicles. It poses a significant threat to human health, especially in India and South Asia, where exposure to these tiny particles can cause severe damage to the heart and lungs, leading to a high risk of mortality.

Organic compounds drive PM2.5

A groundbreaking study by researchers at Washington University's McKelvey School of Engineering in St. Louis, led by Randall Martin, focused on PM2.5 emissions in 29 Indian states and six neighboring countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Burma. The study identified primary organic compounds as the main drivers of high PM2.5 concentrations in South Asia. These organic particles are emitted directly into the atmosphere from various sources.

The study unveiled that ambient PM2.5 was responsible for attributing over one million deaths in South Asia in 2019, primarily originating from residential combustion, industry, and power generation. Among the contributors to PM2.5-related mortality, solid biofuel emerged as the largest, followed by coal, oil, and gas.

Indoor and outdoor air pollution both present a significant risk to the population of South Asia, which makes it a critical problem that needs addressing. Understanding the main sources of PM2.5 is the first step to managing this serious problem effectively.

Deadly PM2.5 sources identified

First author Deepangsu Chatterjee, a doctoral student in energy, environmental & chemical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering, stated, "Our study demonstrates that residential combustion, industry, and power generation primarily caused over 1 million deaths in South Asia due to ambient PM2.5 in 2019. The leading combustible fuel responsible for PM2.5-attributable mortality is solid biofuel, followed by coal and oil and gas."

"Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is the leading risk factor for death in South Asia," said co-author Michael Brauer, professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia. "Understanding the major contributing sources is a critical first step towards management of this serious problem."

To assess the impacts of PM2.5, the researchers used advanced modeling techniques on a global scale, combining global emissions inventories and satellite-derived data on fine surface particulate matter. They also considered long-range transportation to understand how different fuel and emission sectors contributed to PM2.5 and its related health risks.

Reducing burning of biofuels, coal

The study emphasized the importance of reducing the burning of biofuels and coal to curb PM2.5 emissions. In particular, central and eastern India showed a high contribution from coal, while northeast and central India experienced higher household air pollution. Bangladesh was noted for biofuel contributions and open fires were observed in Myanmar.

The findings highlight that air pollution in South Asia is not just an urban problem, requiring policies that address PM2.5 exposure at the national level.

To combat this growing problem, the researchers proposed several strategies, including policies that promote the transition from traditional fuel sources to sustainable energy options.

Decade of successful pollution mitigation

India's efforts over the past decade to identify and mitigate air pollution have been successful, encouraging the people of South Asia to develop strategic policies to further combat air pollution.

The study provides valuable data on sector-specific sources of PM2.5 in different states and neighboring countries, and offers information that can guide local legislators to eliminate PM2.5 pollution in their specific regions.

Chatterjee said, "This study shows that the air pollution problem in South Asia is not just an urban scale problem, so policies targeted at urban scale development will not be enough to mitigate the national level PM2.5 exposure."

Chatterjee, Martin and their co-authors suggest several strategies for future interventions throughout South Asia. These strategies include policies that encourage the replacement of traditional fuel sources with sustainable sources of energy.

Chatterjee said, "The South Asian population stays motivated to continuously advance and devise strategic policies aimed at curbing the growth of air pollution. They have witnessed India implementing such policies over the past five to 10 years, which have successfully identified and addressed air pollution concerns, consequently reducing health burden and mortality risks."

Chatterjee also mentioned, "Our paper presents comprehensive information on sectors, fuels, and compositions pertaining to various states in India, as well as neighboring countries. Local policymakers can utilize this data to effectively eliminate PM2.5 sources specific to their respective regions."

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