June 15, 2016

Air pollution Debilitates and Kills

Air pollution Debilitates and Kills

Vehicles spew toxic fumes far and wide in urban environments. Photo Credit: http://www.ucsusa.org

It’s not as if we needed any more confirmation that air pollution is bad for us, but here comes another one anyhow: it increases the risk of strokes.

Based on a comprehensive global survey whose findings have been published in the medical journal The Lancet Neurology, unclean air has become a major cause of strokes suffered by people worldwide. Almost three-quarters (74%) of strokes in the 188 countries surveyed can be linked to behavioral factors such as smoking, lack of exercise and poor diets. That should not come as much of a surprise: scientists have long known this.

But what’s surprising is that in 2013, the most recent year under survey, an estimated 16.9% of people globally suffered strokes as a result of air pollution. That is almost as much as from smoking (20.7%). Worse: the adverse effects of air pollution on people’s health have been increasing over the past decades in tandem with the increasing levels of air pollution, especially in developing countries.

“A striking finding of our study is the unexpectedly high proportion of stroke burden attributable to environmental air pollution, especially in developing countries,” explained Prof. Valery L Feigin, director of the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, who was the lead author of the study. “We did not expect the effect would be of this magnitude, or increasing so much over the last two decades,” Feigin added. “Our study is the first to demonstrate a large and increasingly hazardous effect of air pollution on stroke burden worldwide.”

In other words, air pollution not only reduces our quality of life but it can also physically incapacitate or kill us.  Each year around 15 million people around the globe suffer strokes. Nearly six million of them die while five million are left with a permanent disability, which may include paralysis, loss of vision or speech, and a reduction in mental capacities. Scientists have called the study’s findings “alarming” because it proves that air pollution affects people’s brain, not just lungs and heart, as previously thought.

Air pollution is a global problem. Malaysians, especially those living in urban areas, suffer lots of it all year round. Much of it comes from the toxic exhaust fumes of vehicles but lingering periodic haze from slash-and-burn forest clearing in neighboring Indonesia makes things even worse. We must all learn once and for all that when we pollute our environment we pollute ourselves too.

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