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by Larry

February, 2004

Choking On Air

At certain times of day in almost any middle-sized or larger city, a glance at the horizon reveals a thick, brown haze. As a society, we buy millions of plastic bottles of water a year to assuage our concern to have only the cleanest liquid to drink several times a day, yet the air we breathe into our lungs roughly 15,000 - 20,000 times daily is often so full of aerosols, ash, acids, smoke, and miscellaneous other noxious gaseous and particle impurities that it is no wonder the incidences of both acute and chronic respiratory illnesses have increased markedly in recent decades. Nor should it surprise us that in heavily polluted areas bronchopulmonary system cancers are on the rise.

Some of the culprits are quite natural, wind-borne residues from volcanoes, lightning-started forest fires, dust collecting and spreading wind-storms, pollen and other plant allergens, mold spores, and so on. But to this already daunting mix our industries, agricultural operations, utilities, and transport systems have added huge volumes of pollutants, far beyond the capacity of the world's weather processes to cope with and flush the influx.

Los Angeles, California
How bad could it get? In South Asia, during the summer of 2002, populations of many cities, in Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India, were choking on the air as a "brown cloud," well over a mile (three kilometers) thick and more than a thousand miles wide, with airborne debris so intense that the sunlight across vast stretches was reduced by 10-15% for weeks at a time, affected agriculture, regional economics, and, of course, health.

The situation was complicated and worsened by the effect of such aerial assaults on climate conditions. Though sunlight was partially blocked, beneath the cloud temperatures rose, the winter monsoon was delayed, precipitation was reduced, and crops failed. The United Nations indicated that recurrences of the cloud were likely, with projections that the countries involved, among the most populated, could have a reduction of 20-40% in their annual rainfall. Meanwhile, other portions of the South Asian subcontinent are expected to experience increased flooding and typhoons. Malnutrition inevitably will rise as conditions favorable for farming become less reliable.

As for the direct medical effects of this kind of pollution, the UN concluded in 2002 that it results, in India alone, in half a million early deaths annually from respiratory illness, equivalent to terrorists wiping out Austin and then one more city of her size for every additional year that such severe airborne emergencies persist.

No known practical and yet politically feasible solution appears available for the growing global atmospheric contamination problem.

Source: (Discovery Channel Canada's website)

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