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Air Quality This Week Gives U.S. a Glimpse of the World’s Air Pollution

In recent times, air quality has become an increasingly important concern across the globe. While the United States may not typically experience the same level of air pollution as some other regions, recent air-quality readings have given Americans a glimpse into the world's air pollution crisis. This article aims to shed light on the significance of air quality, its impact on human health, and the global scale of this pressing issue.

The Global Perspective on Air Quality

While the haze and pollution that enveloped parts of the Northeast and Midwest in the United States may have raised alarm bells for many Americans, it is important to note that such conditions are sadly considered normal in several other regions of the world. Cities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been grappling with severe air pollution for years, making readings like those observed in New York State merely another day in their lives.

For instance, in Bangkok, Thailand, where polluted air is a daily reality, taxi driver Paiboon Kaewklangrong nonchalantly remarked that such conditions were just the “normal air” he breathes every day. This stark contrast highlights the disparity in air quality standards across the globe.

The Health Implications of Poor Air Quality

The adverse effects of poor air quality cannot be understated. Breathing in polluted air over a prolonged period can have severe consequences on human health. While short-term exposure can lead to immediate symptoms such as coughing, congestion, and inflammation, long-term exposure poses even greater risks. It can cause liver and brain damage, as well as increase the likelihood of blood clots that may result in heart attacks.

Moreover, when smoke from wildfires combines with emissions from vehicles, factories, and stoves in urban areas, the resulting particulate matter (PM) becomes even more toxic than regular urban PM. Rajasekhar Balasubramanian, an air quality expert at the National University of Singapore, emphasizes this point, underscoring the elevated risks associated with smoke haze.

The Global Impact of Air Pollution

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the effects of outdoor and household air pollution contribute to approximately 6.7 million premature deaths annually worldwide, with the majority occurring in low- and middle-income countries. South Asia, in particular, houses nine of the ten cities with the worst air quality, leading to an alarming two million premature deaths each year, according to the World Bank.

Emissions from vehicles, heavy industry, brick kilns, burning fields, and other sources contribute to the persistently hazardous pollution in the region. Unfortunately, those who belong to impoverished families and cannot afford air filters are the most vulnerable, as they spend more time outdoors and face greater exposure to the harmful effects of air pollution.

Similarly, East Asia has also been grappling with chronic air pollution, evident in the widespread use of face masks even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In countries like South Korea, school children have grown accustomed to indoor activities on days with poor air quality. The Korean language even has a specific term, “fine dust,” to describe bad air, and real-time air quality measurements are prominently displayed in public areas to keep citizens informed.

Air Pollution and Politics

Air pollution is a deeply political issue that can shape public sentiment and even influence political campaigns. In South Korea, presidential candidates have made reducing air pollution a crucial part of their platforms. Similarly, China has faced significant criticism for the persistent smog in cities like Beijing, which has often been perceived as a failure of leadership.

The occurrence of forest and peatland fires in Indonesia has sparked outrage from neighboring countries due to the smoke that drifts across Southeast Asia, exacerbating air pollution in the region. Such incidents can strain diplomatic relations

and highlight the need for concerted efforts to tackle air pollution on a global scale.

Hope for Change

Although the challenges posed by air pollution are immense, there have been instances where concerted efforts have yielded positive outcomes. Mexico City serves as a prime example of successful interventions. In response to international criticism and mounting concerns over the city’s air quality, the government implemented measures such as restricting vehicular movement on specific days and closing down an urban refinery. These reforms led to a remarkable improvement in the air quality of Mexico City.

Additionally, unexpected events like the COVID-19 pandemic have inadvertently contributed to temporary improvements in air quality. In Bangkok, New Delhi, and other major cities, residents observed noticeable improvements in air pollution levels during lockdown periods. However, as life gradually returns to normal, pollution levels bounce back, reminding us of the urgent need for sustained action.


Air quality remains a critical global issue that demands immediate attention. As we gain insight into the world’s air pollution crisis through events like the recent haze in parts of the United States, it becomes evident that collaborative efforts are necessary to address this problem effectively. By implementing comprehensive policies, raising public awareness, and investing in cleaner technologies, we can strive toward a future where clean and healthy air is a fundamental right for all. Let us work together to create a world where breathing easy is not just a privilege, but a universal reality.

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