Editorial: Black Air Pollution Needs More Attention

New research shows that air pollution due to Black Carbon (BC, not to be confused with the commercial/industrial pollutant Carbon Black) produced form the burning of biofuels and biomass for cooking and heating in the underdeveloped world has a great impact on the future as the population increases. This biofuels/biomass burning will increase global morbidity and mortality due to contributing to respiratory infections and other ailments its decomposition materials Black Carbon cause. We cannot solve this air pollution problem medically because respiratory microbials alter their antigens and are becoming less susceptible to combating with the current arsenal of antibiotic regimen. This is an environmental issue that is only to get larger in the current political climate.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) press release on September 27, 2016, the estimates are that there are 6.5 million premature deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) related to exposure to air pollution. These killings were related to exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution causes 2.8 million deaths annually, and outdoor pollution takes a toll on 3 million people a year. Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. Almost all (94%) of these deaths are due to noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and lung cancers. Air pollution also increases the risks of acute respiratory infections. These take a toll most heavily on the health of the most vulnerable populations such as women, children and elderly.

With these staggering numbers, the burden of costs to society financially and morally is enormous. Unfortunately, in our imbalanced world, many developing nation population rely on open fires or stoves using solid fuels (i.e. wood, charcoal, coal, dung, crop wastes) to heat their homes and to cook their meals. Incomplete combustion of these matters produces BC that ranges from fine particle to carbon monoxide especially in poorly ventilated dwellings that the inhabitants end up inhaling. Due to the economics of life that allow many women and children to spend much of their time around the domestic hearth and leads to their premature deaths.

BC particles are heterogeneous in chemical and physical properties, including higher organic contaminants (OC) content and levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs). Global Black Carbon emissions are approximately 7600 Gg total (a 2000 estimate), while US black carbon emissions are 581 Gg total (a 2005 estimate). BC is a form of ultra-fine particulate matter and even relatively low exposure concentrations of Black Carbon have an inflammatory effect on the respiratory system of children. Researchers of the Flemish Institute for Technological Research note that BC exposure (on children) on the morning of sampling was associated with airway oxidative stress while 24-h and weekly exposures were linked with airway inflammation.

The Recent study released by the Department of Genetics of the University of Leicester of England have brought together their expertise in genetics, microbiology, and air pollution chemistry to show the impacts of air pollution on the bacteria of the respiratory tract. They note that air pollution may alter the healthy bacteria that line the nose, throat, and lungs by making them antibiotic resistant, and the researchers are concerned about the increased risks for respiratory infections. These researchers showed that BC changes the way that bacteria grow and form “communities.” Interestingly, the researchers note that these bacteria change by hiding the immune system and thus increasing their survival.

Researcher Julie Morrissey from Leicester University states that this shows us how the bacteria that causes respiratory infections are affected by air pollution, possibly increasing the risk of infection from Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumonia, and the effectiveness of penicillin used to treat these ailments. Researchers found that with exposure to Black Carbon, these Streptococcus pneumonias move from the nose to the lower respiratory tract along with the resistance of these bacteria increasing.

In 2009, the International Network for Environmental Compliance & Enforcement (INECE), the only global network of environmental compliance and enforcement practitioners, set goals to raise awareness of the importance of environmental compliance and enforcement and strengthen capacity throughout the regulatory cycle to limit Black Carbon particulate emissions.

This knowledge and research has significant potential to initiate a global research effort to understand a hitherto unknown effect of air pollution and provide significant additional impetus to the control of contamination.