Rural air pollution may be as damaging as urban

Chemical reactivity, seasonality, and distribution of particulate matter are critical to understanding pollution’s impact on human health, suggesting government’s need to rethink focus points for regulatory efforts. 

A US study of air quality in the Midwest has found exposure to deadly PM2.5 particulate matter could be just as harmful for people living in the countryside as for those in towns and cities. 

silhouette of people walking on road during sunset

Carried out by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, new research suggests that by ignoring what’s known as cellular oxidative potential, many policymakers, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), could be overlooking how dangerous air is in areas traditionally considered safe. 

‘Cellular oxidative potential describes the capability of the particles to generate reactive, oxygen-based chemicals that can lead to a variety of health problems in the cells of lung tissue,’ said civil and environmental engineering professor Vishal Verma, who led on the study, which looked at three urban localities – Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Lois – alongside one rural site in Bondville, Illinois, and a roadside location next to a busy interstate highway. All of which were found to have the same oxidative potential. 

‘Our rural samples did have less mass than those in the urban settings, but the oxidative potential was equal to samples from urban settings,’ Verma said. ‘Additionally, the oxidative potential of the rural samples was higher in the summer than in the winter, suggesting that summertime agricultural activity can produce PM2.5 particles that are just as toxic as those from urban settings.’

In related news, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is losing $141bn each year due to air pollution. 

Image credit: Ryan De Hamer


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2 years ago

And in Europe there’s more wood burning in rural areas. Unhealthy if you live next door to it.

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