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The State of Global Air Report 2020, published by the Health Effects Institute in Boston, has released the Pat Kenny Show on News Talk with Marter Private Network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Is shocking data about the negative health impacts of air pollution on babies polluted air is killing half a million babies a year across the globe with the state of indoor air quality causing two thirds of the deaths and affecting health in the womb.


Catherine Walker is principal scientist at the Health Effects Institute and is on the line now. Catherine, good morning and welcome. Good morning. Thank you for having me.


Now, I suppose all of us look out our windows in the cities and see at the state of the air and we often get updates and we see in lockdown. The air has improved because motor vehicles aren't as much on our streets. But it turns out that that's not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is indoors in terms of numbers.


That's correct. But I think it's also important to recognize where it is that these indoor air pollution problems are occurring. And what the report shows is that the indoor air pollution is the biggest problem in parts of the world where people still rely on burning fossil fuels like wood and coal and dung and agricultural biomass in the home with poor ventilation. So they're very highly exposed.


So, you know, when we talk about initiatives to improve air quality, normally we're talking about, you know, going from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles and so on.


But what we're looking at in the kind of environments you describe is a whole change in tradition, a whole change in a way of life. Know, it very much is.


And there are groups around the world who've been working on this challenge for many, many years, trying to provide cleaner cookstoves. But ultimately, what we know is that what we really need to do is to help these countries provide cleaner energy for their populations. It's a tall order. It's going to take time. And progress is being made in different parts of the country, different parts of the world like China and India, where they're providing more hookups to gas and electric sources.


But it's true, it's a big change for these countries and it's been a real challenge for them to overcome it.


Now, do we understand the mechanisms by which these babies are vulnerable? I mean, are we having effects in the womb before the children are born and then even more extreme effects when they actually breathe with their own lungs, this contaminated air?


That's right. I mean, there are really a couple of ways that we think these impacts of air pollution are operating. And the one that we were looking at most closely in our study is one that looks at the effects of the mother's exposure to air pollution and the impacts on the lower birth weight and preterm birth of these babies. We know that that low birth weight and preterm birth are leading cause of death around the world. I mean, newborn up nearly two million newborns die as a result of this factor.


And there have been a number of studies that show that mothers who are exposed to higher levels of air pollution have babies who are of smaller weight and who are born too early. And this puts them at grave risk of of all kinds of complications, the respiratory infections that you referred to, to diarrheal infections and others. So that the mechanism exactly how this works is not fully known. But we think it has something to do with the same ways that smoking affects babies and mothers by having particles transferred across the lung into the body and affecting the mother's health.


The other. Can you just please. Oh, no. I was just going to follow on and say that, you know. What's important to remember is that in for many of these women in countries that are poor, where malnutrition, poor medical care for prenatal care may be an issue, these babies are already at risk of these conditions. And so air pollution in some sense kind of tips them over the edge. The kind of countries you're talking about, I mean, one thinks straightaway of rural Africa, and yet this is a continent that's for much of its time bathed in sunshine and the options of alternative energy sources are just apparent and photovoltaics becoming cheaper and cheaper all the time.


I mean, is there if the will was there and the resources were found, is there a quick solution to this, a quick solution?


I think if there had been a quick solution, we should have found it already. But I think certainly the kinds of solutions you're mentioning are ones that that could absolutely contribute to cleaner air in the homes of these of these populations. I mean, it's quite extraordinary that that's still about half the world's population relies on dirty fuels burning in the home for cooking and heating. So there's a lot of work to be done, a lot of work to be done.


Now, in terms of adult mortality, I know in in Ireland, when we introduced a ban on smoking coal in the Dublin area, for example, that there was a palpable result and a well researched result to our efforts.


Yes, actually, Ireland has one of the bright stars of the of these kinds of studies where we've looked at the benefits of actually reducing our reliance on on dirty fuels like coal. I mean, there was a great study done by Professor Luke Clancy and investigators at Harvard School of Public Health on the 1990 Dublin coal ban. And it was very clear that there were substantial reductions, up to 70 percent reductions in particulate matter, air pollution. And subsequent studies that we funded of the bans throughout Ireland showed a progressive decrease in air pollution related to the coal bans, which also had benefits for reducing respiratory mortality.


So these types of intervention studies show that that it works, that these interventions work. And the science behind all of this, I mean, this is one area which has been really well researched. It has I mean, you know, it may come as some surprise to your listeners that air pollution is really the best studied of all our environmental impacts. There are really been tens of thousands of studies now done in the last three or four decades that really have shown that air pollution has linked to all kinds of different adverse health effects and in humans.


And they include things not only the respiratory effects that we're seeing, but are most commonly think about like asthma and respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but also heart disease and diabetes and stroke, things that have major impacts on society.


And if we all want to find out where these places in the world are, where the air quality is awful, there is a website, there's an interactive tool that's right on the state of global air.


You easy to find if you Google it. And what we've done there is to lay out for all countries in the world the levels of air pollution, both particulate ozone and indoor air pollution and where they occur. You can use the interactive tool to sort of explore the air pollution levels and health effects in your country and compare it to others. And we've made it. Our goal has really been to make this information open and accessible to people around the world, many of whom don't have access to information on the air pollution in their country.


All right.


That's the state of global air Web site. And there you can find that interactive tool. Catherine Walker, principal scientist at the Health Effects Institute in Boston. Thank you very much for joining us.


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