AIR QUALITY AND PEOPLE’S HEALTH – THE IMPORTANCE OF ELECTRIFICATION
04/07/2022 was World Health Day and in this regard we want to talk about the impact of electrification on air quality and, consequently, on people’s health.
It is important to emphasize that cities occupy only 2% of the planet’s surface but are responsible for about 80% of CO2 emissions, therefore it is essential to reduce this value which has a strong influence on people’s health, as well as on ecosystems.
In fact, poor air quality can worsen health conditions, causing asthma and cardiovascular problems.
But the effects can be worse, in fact it is the leading cause of premature death in Europe, with a higher incidence than road accidents.
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million deaths each year are attributable to exposure, indoors, to emissions of fuels such as wood, coal and organic residues; while 3.7 million deaths are attributable to industrial emissions and vehicular traffic (airborne particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, polyclic aromatic hydrocarbons…).
The European Environment Agency estimated that in Europe, in 2019, 307,000 premature deaths are caused by long-term exposure to airborne particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10 solid and liquid atmospheric particles), 40,400 by exposure to nitrogen dioxide and 16,800 premature deaths from ozone.
Italy is at the second place after Germany for avoidable deaths from particulate matter (49,000 900 deaths) and ozone (3,170 premature deaths) but in first place for deaths from nitrogen dioxide (10,640 premature deaths).
Particulate matter is a set of particles emitted into the atmosphere that can have anthropogenic or natural origin.
Primary PM is generated by mechanical and erosion processes or by marine and desert aerosols, while secondary PM is formed through chemical reactions such as exhaust gases from internal combustion vehicles, industrial combustion processes and domestic heating systems. (Secondary PM).
Particulate matter is the one with the greatest impact on human health among atmospheric pollutants. Various epidemiological studies have shown associations between the mass concentrations of PM and an increase in the rate of mortality and hospital admissions for heart and respiratory diseases. It has also been included by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) among the group 1 carcinogens (agents that are certainly carcinogenic to humans).
The situation in Italy regarding this pollutant is serious, as the Court of Justice of the EU has condemned our country for the systematic and continuous violation of the EU limit values on PM10 concentrations in the air between 2008 and 2017.
NITROGEN DIOXIDE (NO2)
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is an irritating gas for the respiratory tract and eyes, originating mainly from vehicular traffic and the product of the oxidation of nitrogen monoxide (NO).
Its formation can be natural (soils, volcanoes and storms) or anthropogenic (combustion in the transport sector, in industrial plants and waste incineration, ..).
NO2 and NO have negative effects on human health by contributing to the phenomena of photochemical smog, eutrophication and acid rain.
TROPOSPHERIC OZONE (O3)
Tropospheric ozone1 (O3) is formed through photochemical processes in the presence of precursor pollutants (nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds). After particulate matter, ozone is the air pollutant which, thanks to its toxicity and the concentration levels it can reach, has the greatest impact on human health. It can also cause serious problems to the ecosystem and agriculture.
AROMATIC POLYCYCLIC HYDROCARBONS (PAHs)
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), present everywhere in the atmosphere, derive from the incomplete combustion of organic material and the use of fuel oil, gas, coal and wood, but above all from vehicular emissions and industrial plants.
Two important carcinogenic PAHs are: Benzoapyrene (BaP) and Benzene (C6H6), a volatile organic compound mainly produced by motor vehicles included in group 1 of the International Agency for Research on Cancer – IARC.
These data must alarm us, and what Reuters says must make us reflect: in 2021 no country in the world met the air quality standards set by the World Health Organization.
There is therefore only one solution to be adopted, electrification.
According to an analysis by IRENA, the electrification of transport, industry and agriculture will represent 20% of the measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In addition, to maintain the rise in temperature global average below 1.5 ° C electricity will have to become the main source of energy in 2050.
It is necessary, indeed fundamental, the use of lithium batteries for construction and work machinery that are used above all in city centers, which as we have expressed at the beginning of this article, are responsible for the highest levels of Co2 emissions.
We conclude by saying that the use of lithium batteries allows a high reduction of polluting emissions thus reducing the risk of contracting serious diseases and avoiding premature deaths.