GEORGE TOWN, September 13 – On the occasion of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, observed on September 7, 2023, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is urging Malaysian authorities to take swift action against air pollution, which poses one of the most significant environmental health risks today. According to the United Nations, more than 99% of the global population is exposed to unsafe air, leading to a range of health problems, including strokes, heart diseases, respiratory issues, and cancer.
Worldwide, polluted air is responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths annually, and a staggering 2.4 billion people face hazardous levels of household air pollution. CAP is calling on the government to prioritize public health by implementing effective policies to substantially reduce emissions from five key sectors identified as major sources of human-driven air pollution:
- Transport: Fine particulate matter, black carbon, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide are all associated with emissions from the global transport sector. Exposure to vehicle emissions contributes to up to 400,000 premature deaths annually and results in approximately $1 trillion in health-related damages.
- Industry: Industrial activities release significant quantities of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and chemicals into the atmosphere.
- Waste: The open burning of waste releases methane, particulate matter, persistent organic pollutants, and other toxins. These pollutants enter the food chain and ecosystems, endangering both human and environmental health.
- Households: Household air pollution, caused by burning solid fuels in open fires and inefficient stoves, results in 4.3 million premature deaths each year. It is responsible for the release of pollutants such as black carbon, carbon monoxide, lead, and mercury.
- Agriculture: Methane emissions from agricultural processes and livestock contribute to ground-level ozone air pollution, leading to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a potent greenhouse gas responsible for up to 45% of current net-global warming. Open burning to clear agricultural fields is a major source of particulate pollution, including black carbon.
Air pollution is closely linked to the worsening climate crisis and poses threats to ecosystems, food security, and economic productivity. CAP is urging authorities to establish continuous air quality monitoring across the country and work collaboratively with key sectors to address this issue while safeguarding health and livelihoods. To combat air pollution, CAP recommends the following actions:
- Regulations: Enforce new regulations to reduce harmful air pollutants from industrial sources.
- Waste Management: Improve municipal solid waste management policies to reduce emissions.
- Air Quality Action Plans: Implement local and national air quality action plans.
- Clean Energy: Promote policies that increase access to clean, non-polluting energy sources in households.
- Regular Monitoring: Continuously monitor air quality and promptly address pollution sources.
- Business Practices: Encourage businesses to adopt ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable practices to reduce air pollution.
To raise public awareness and encourage cleaner modes of transportation, authorities should:
- Free Public Transport: Offer free public transport in urban areas to encourage car owners to leave their vehicles at home.
- Promote Active Transportation: Organize eco-walks and public cycling events to promote walking and cycling.
- Educational Initiatives: Share online educational resources with local schools.
- Car-Free Zones: Establish car-free streets in urban areas.
- Green Spaces: Create urban green spaces to help remove pollutants.
Additionally, the public should be advised to:
- Waste Reduction: Reduce waste, compost food, recycle non-organic trash, and avoid burning waste.
- Sustainable Lifestyle: Adopt a plant-rich diet, reduce single-use plastic consumption, and consider low-pollution transportation options.
- Public Transport: Use public transport, bicycles, or walking as cleaner alternatives for commuting.
CAP also recommends that individuals avoid spending extended periods in areas with high pollution levels, such as busy roads. When walking or cycling, choose routes away from congested roads to reduce exposure. In conclusion, CAP emphasizes the importance of collective efforts to combat air pollution and protect public health. This year’s theme for the 4th annual celebration of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies is “Together For Clean Air,” highlighting the need for coordinated action to address this critical environmental health threat.