At times we might be mistaken to think of the noon haziness as mist that has outlived it’s time.
We may be right.
But chances are that we are wrong and this should worry us.
Haziness in the urban air could result from choking exhaust gases, burning rubbish and particulate matter.
These are very small and light particles floating around in the very ambient air we breathe.
Though it doesn’t seem much of a concern at face value, particulate matter (or as it known, PM) comes in all shapes and forms.
It consists of a concoction of all sorts of substances; hydrocarbons, heavy metals, oxides etc.
But among the myriad of reasons, what makes them a subject of great concern is their size.
PM2.5 is the name given to those airborne particles whose average diameter is about 2.5 microns.
Now a micron is one thousandth of a millimetre.
Just picture the minute sizes of these particles most of the time appearing as a hazy mist in the air we breathe.
PM2.5 particles are not just your ordinary specks easily whisked away at the comfort of a sofa set.
They are substances adversely graded and confirmed by reputable organizations such as the IARC as human carcinogens.
Chronic exposure to PM2.5 particles could increase the risk of lung cancer development over time.
But their presence in our ambient air wouldn’t be possible without the spectrum of human activities we are so much attached to.
THE REAL CULPRITS
Picture a young man living in an informal settlement next to industries releasing toxic emmissions while trekking everyday along the main highway as he heads towards work…
Imagine another young man working as a public service vehicle conductor, exposed to exhaust fumes on a daily basis…
Or just imagine construction workers doing their job without personal protective equipment such as face masks…
All these among others are ways by which we are occupationally and domestically exposed to particulate matter especially the PM2.5 type.
Other ways may include through overtillage of farm lands or through natural events such as volcanoes which release a unique type of air particulates called aerosols.
With that being said, what remedial options do we have against this airborne menace?
There is room for more exploitation of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro electricity.
Though energy from fossil fuels is easy to use, it ultimately damages the very air we breathe.
So opportunities exist in:
Supply of solar based lanterns to villagers discouraging them from the use of paraffin;
Supply of eco-friendly jikos to communities or even assisting them to make their own smokeless eco- charcoal from locally available waste material;
Exploiting our ability to convert water currents and waves into energy etc.
Though renewable energy is the smartest way, how could we make use of fossil fuels a healthier alternative?
FUEL & ENGINE QUALITY
Adulterated fuel and inefficient engines on our streets promote the production of more particulates.
In that case, there is need for not only legislation but strict implementation of vehicle purchase guidelines.
Several aspects such as the manufacturing year, the engine make etc are worth considering especially for consumers in the market.
The better the engine, the more efficiently it burns fuel producing a low level of particulate matter.
But it shouldn’t just stop with engines.
Fuel quality is increasingly a source of concern because of the frequent instances of fuel adulteration.
Perhaps smart innovative technologies need to be explored to enable realtime engine feedback on fuel quality during refilling.
AIR QUALITY MONITORING & VENTILATION
Local authorities such as county governments must up their game in monitoring ambient air quality.
Placement of air quality sensors in crowded places with poor air quality such as bus stations and in informal settlements is useful not only for policy but in order to encourage problem solvers to solve existing problems.
But above and beyond, there is need to sensitize tenants and home owners on the importance of good indoor ventilation.
Architects, engineers and interior designers have a role to play in guiding their customers to embrace house designs that allow free airflow reducing the negative effects of pollution.
Because over tilling of agricultural land is one of the main cocntributors to particulates in the air, there is a place for conservation agricultural practices such as little or no tillage and applying organic matter to soils.
Besides reducing air pollution, these practices are bound to improve soil quality thereby improving agricultural yields.
Particulate matter pollution will continue being an issue of great concern especially with the increased use of fossil fuels and manufacturing.
Though a problem, it’s an opportunity for anyone with a heart willing to solve problems and open up opprtunities for others.