An Arctic has never been cleaner

Written by by Sophie Bronstein, CNN

A cleanest air has never existed.

“People still breathe polluted air and be as healthy as possible,” said John Mason, a PhD student at the University of Calgary who studies environmental engineering and has explored the health effects of the air that is inhaled into human lungs. “The biggest health hazard from air pollution is respiratory disease.”

While most of the industrial world has the capacity to filter, and in some cases reduce, the levels of pollutants released into the air to safer levels, this is not the case for places such as the Arctic.

“The Arctic is the opposite, which is why we see fairly poor air quality because the region is not properly cleaned up. We’ve learned that the more air pollution people are exposed to, the more pollutants they accumulate and develop diseases such as lung cancer.”

In the greatest pollution trouble zone of all, Laptev in Russia’s Kola Peninsula, for example, air quality is rarely better than half safe, with wildfires blanketing it in smoke. In Kalmykia, in Russia’s far north, poor air quality generates toxic air too.

However, due to remote locations, harsh winters and lack of access to automated or automated systems, serious smog is notoriously difficult to moderate. According to Krivoruchka, a consultancy that works with developers to address air quality issues, air quality monitoring systems have to be arranged manually.

Inaccessible data

Air quality monitoring systems used for health issues, such as those launched by Mayor Mike Bloomberg in New York, are invaluable in improving air quality.

In Europe, a data service called Aratiq , which tracks air quality and indoor pollution, is widely used by researchers to develop solutions to developing countries’ air quality problems.

But in much of the Arctic, it’s too expensive to build the systems to monitor air quality. “The region has few barriers to entry for people to build their own data collection platforms,” said Charles Woulgai, a regional director at South Pole Research Foundation.

As a result, data collected by people in the region is “not easy to compare,” said Mason.

There are currently no broad national air quality standards in the Arctic region, nor in Svalbard and the Svalbard islands, the Norwegian territories which surround the arctic circle.

But towns with the potential to mitigate air pollution problems — or simply to clean their own air — cannot legally admit it.

“Air quality standards need to be the law,” Woulgai said. “In general, if there are standards and people abide by them, then it’s very good and affordable. But we can’t force anyone to comply with the same standards. They are saying ‘we don’t need standards because we don’t need filters’ — because they have not thought of where and how to filter the air.”

Alexandria Ayr, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Port Authority, in which Sweden has a controlling interest, explained that a bigger problem in the area is not air pollution — but the ongoing damage caused by oil drilling and shipping.

“As a result of oil drilling and oil from pipeline projects, problems with air quality are much higher now,” she said. “Air quality is particularly bad in Hammerfest, because of wind and water.”

The town’s indoor air quality is reported to be dangerous, too.

“There are problems with indoor air quality, which is only part of the story,” Ayr said. “The best solution is to make sure people are aware of how to choose things that work better.”

‘Not as deadly as it sounds’

Air pollution in the Arctic was first studied by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute , from 1887 until 1972.

Then in 2001, researchers from Stanford University were invited to Australia’s Cape York region, which sits at the northernmost point of the continent, to continue the research.

Nearly every measure of air quality there exceeded air quality standards during summer periods — in some cases four times over the standards, or air pollution levels were five times over the standards.

However, when exposed to sulfur dioxide, which is considered highly hazardous, levels of pollutants reached levels of about 14 times the standards for 2011 and 2012 — before dropping back to the “acceptable limits” in 2014.

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