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Video - Winter Pollution hits Peak Level : What are the main pollutants and how do they affect our health?

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The potential effects are numerous and include respiratory complaints, lung cancer and stroke. But chronic air pollution is more damaging to our health than the seasonal peaks, which are partly caused by the weather conditions.


PM10 and fine particles


One of the incriminating substances is PM10, microscopic matter which is suspended in the air and blackens the facades of buildings in cities. PM10 (which has a diameter of less than 10 microns) comes mainly from mechanical processes such as construction, and "fine particles" (PM2.5, with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns) are emitted when wood or fuel is burnt and are also present in industrial steam.

The European Environment Agency considers air pollution to be "the single largest environmental health risk in Europe", with 90% of the urban population exposed to particulate matter at levels deemed harmful to health by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The smallest particles not only penetrate the respiratory tracts but also the blood. In addition to cancer, they can cause asthma, allergies, respiratory complaints and cardiovascular problems.

Pollution is principally formed during the combustion process in car engines and electricity plants. It greatly affects urban areas and is emitted in higher quantities by diesel motors, which are classed as carcinogenic by the WHO.

China pollution: 'It can be completely dark'

— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) January 6, 2017


NO2 and sulphur dioxide


Some other harmful substances are NO2, an irritant gas that aggravates asthma and can cause lung conditions in children, and sulphur dioxide (emitted during the combustion of coal and petrol), which causes respiratory diseases. Ammonia (NH3) is linked to agricultural emissions, which are high in the springtime during crop-dusting. During hot spells, corrosive ground-level ozone (O3) is also a problem. Finally, industry also emits heavy metals (lead, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, mercury) which can build up in the body.

In total, 1 death in every 9 worldwide is linked to atmospheric pollution, according to the WHO, which demands "rapid action". In France, it is responsible for 42,000 premature deaths every year. In 2011, the European Commission (Brussels) referred France to the EU Court of Justice for frequently exceeding the European limits on PM10 particulates in several of its cities. 

Beijing is on red alert for air pollution. And this timelapse video from @china_chas shows just how bad it really is...

— BBC Newsbeat (@BBCNewsbeat) January 3, 2017



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