Urban air`s influence on health challenged by innovative ideas

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. There are, however, sometimes significant differences in living conditions and, with them, the attractiveness of urban areas. The international weekly magazine The Economist regularly ranks the world’s most livable cities. Other media such as National Geographic and the British daily newspaper The Guardian consistently evaluate the cities in which it is hard to breathe. So, what does it take for a city to be livable?

Something stinks to high heaven

Factors that contribute to livability can usually be measured objectively.

Health factors have a particularly strong influence on the quality of life. Cities present several stress factors, including hustle and bustle, crowding, and noise. The greatest stress factor, however, is polluted air. Contaminants such as fine dust, soot, and allergens from traffic, industry, and private households are not only unpleasant, they also pose a long-term threat to health.

A study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) reveals that around 10 percent of all cancers in Europe are caused by air pollution, passive smoking, and other pollutants.

Respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma, as well as diseases of the cardiovascular system, also increase with air pollution. Even though air quality in many modern cities has improved in recent years, 97 percent of the global population continues to live in places that do not meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended air quality. In India, China, and many Southeast Asian countries, high levels of particulate matter in the air lower the quality of life and reduce life expectancy.

The dust must go

The negative effects of fine dust have been known for some time and sophisticated filter systems in industry and commerce have long been effective in reducing particulate matter and contaminant emissions.

Pocket and cassette filters with low pressure drops and long service lives improve the energy-efficiency of ventilation systems, which reduces emissions. For indoor environments, high-performance filtration systems mean consistently safe, clean air that is almost entirely free of fine dust, bacteria, and viruses. Modern industrial dust removal concepts are consuming ever less energy. They are also extremely effective in filtering dust and gas from exhaust air.

According to the Air Quality Life Index1, air quality in China has noticeably improved in recent years.

Green roofs, smart buildings, and clean air

Cities and municipalities want to help improve air purity not just in industrial plants, but in public spaces in general and, with it, the quality of urban life. A huge number of projects have been initiated around the world.

In the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, green roofs have been introduced for many public areas. The project aims to use plants to filter fine dust from the air to improve air quality and to create space for insects such as bees and butterflies.

The city of Milan in Italy is constructing entire buildings to reduce smog. The facade and balconies of the Bosco Verticale, a high-rise building, have been planted with shrubs and trees, while the cement facade of the Palazzo Italia can absorb as many airborne pollutants per day as are caused by around 1,000 cars.

The city of Vancouver in Canada has initiated a comprehensive “Clean Air Plan”. Measures are being taken in the areas of transport, construction, industry, and agriculture to improve urban air quality by permanently reducing air pollution and emissions. The plan is to expand public transportation, promote energy-efficient construction, and create climate-friendly production facilities.

Paving the way to livability

“Healthy cities” and good air are inextricably linked. One of the main reasons for this is the effect of fine dust and the like on health. Urban authorities and the industrial sector are therefore continuing to optimize their operations using efficient filters, climate-friendly initiatives, and other innovative methods to keep the air clean.

Hopefully, an increasing number of cities will be able to compete for the title of the world’s most livable city in the future.


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