New York City has been shrouded in smoke from wildfires in Canada, prompting authorities to issue air quality alerts down the East Coast. The situation has prompted residents to don N95 face masks, which were largely abandoned since the pandemic. The smoke has caused severe air pollution, which is rare in the US outside of West Coast states like California that experience annual wildfires. However, fighting smog is nothing new in Asia, where intense air pollution caused by noxious smoke, gases, and industrial chemicals smothers many major cities across the continent for much of the year.
Last year, six of the world’s 10 most polluted cities were in India, according to monitoring network IQAir. Researchers have estimated that bad air could be reducing the life expectancy of hundreds of millions of Indians by as much as nine years. The capital New Delhi is regularly shrouded in smog, thanks to several factors including vehicle emissions, coal-fired power plants, and the annual practice of burning agricultural fields to prepare land for its next crop. The tiny pollutant PM2.5 is highly dangerous and has been linked to health problems including asthma and heart disease.
Beijing is perhaps the city most notorious for its pollution, but it has successfully turned things around. For years, residents in the Chinese capital breathed in acrid air every day. It culminated in the infamous 2013 « air-pocalypse, » when the air quality index hit 755, forcing residents to shut themselves indoors, wear filtered face masks, and crank air purifiers on high. The event attracted global media attention and forced the issue into China’s mainstream, and soon after, China launched a sweeping anti-pollution campaign, shutting down coal mines and coal plants, setting up nationwide air monitoring stations, and rolling out new regulations.
In conclusion, severe air pollution caused by noxious smoke, gases, and industrial chemicals is a major problem in many major cities across Asia. The situation is rare in the US outside of West Coast states like California that experience annual wildfires. However, the recent smoke from wildfires in Canada has caused severe air pollution in New York City, prompting authorities to issue air quality alerts down the East Coast. The right policies and investment can help fix air quality, as demonstrated by Beijing’s successful anti-pollution campaign. However, human-caused climate change has exacerbated the hot and dry conditions that allow wildfires to ignite and grow, posing further challenges on the horizon.
Keywords: air pollution, severe air pollution, Asia, India, New Delhi, PM2.5, Beijing, anti-pollution campaign, US, Canada, wildfires, climate change.
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