Mexico City was named the most polluted city in the world in 1992.

I was born and (partly) raised in Mexico City, declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the dirtiest city in the world in 1992.

Throughout the 90s, I remember “lockdown” days being a frequent feature on the news meaning that we were highly recommended not to be outdoors and to stick to short commutes. I didn’t understand what “air pollution over 100” meant; all I cared about was the fact that I got another day off school. Those were the glory days but unbeknownst to me, those air particles were damaging my health.

Today, Mexico City doesn’t figure anywhere near the most polluted cities in the world. Now that spot is occupied by the heavily polluted New Delhi in India. Surprisingly, however, most pollution-related deaths around the world occur in China, with a whopping 1.4 million deaths caused by air pollution.

Air pollution more dangerous than HIV?

A new study revealed recently that 3.3 million deaths worldwide are caused by pollution; strokes, heart attacks and lung damage being the greater causes. That is more than HIV and malaria-related deaths combined. The recommended limit for air to be considered clean is 10 microgrammes per cubic meter according to WHO. Cities in India (13 out of the top 20 most polluted worldwide), as well as Pakistan and Iran are beyond this limit. But it’s not just those countries. The United States, Russia and all of Europe are highly affected by air pollution too.

What is causing these deaths?

The study revealed that North East USA, Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea’s number one cause of death by air pollution was agriculture. Ammonia and animal waste continue unregulated, harming the health of those around them and, ultimately, resulting in death. Nonetheless, the greatest cause of worldwide deaths relating to air pollution stems from cooking with wood and bio-fuels, a common practice around the world.

Traffic and vehicle emission and power plants are the other silent killers. Busy cities, such as London, are among the protagonists in the rise of  premature deaths caused by pollution. Last year, London reached 6 times the recommended air pollution limit at 57 microgrammes per cubic meter (although it reached 94 in 2012). While efforts are being focused on tackling HIV, malaria, Ebola, unfortunately fresh air appears to be low down on our agenda.

How to keep your family safe

Although the 10 dirtiest cities are basically contained to three countries
, the whole world is drowning in smog and soot. Unless you plan on moving to a deserted island, chances are you will be facing some pollution of some kind. However, if you’re an expat in a heavily polluted area, the best thing to do is to know how to keep your family from inhaling too much polluted air.

Here are some recommended solutions:

  1. If you’re a fitness enthusiast, make sure you exercise in environmentally friendly places, preferably indoors. If you are a jogger, try doing so where there is plenty of trees and plants, as these help keep the air clean.
  2. Keep outdoor activity with your children to a minimum when necessary. Children love being outdoors, but too much exposure to polluted air may be harmful. If you are living in India or China, encourage indoor physical activity or limit outdoor playtime.
  3. Fill your house up with plants. Plants are known to make people happier and make them feel better, but they don’t stop there. They purify the dirty indoor air and create a healthier indoor environment for everyone.
  4. Be on the lookout for symptoms such as wheezing, sniffling, coughing or sneezing too much, as these could be due to polluted lungs. If you or anyone in your family is suffering from these symptoms, a health expert should look at them and make sure everything is fine. While it could be an allergy or just a cold, it is better to be safe than sorry.
  5. If necessary, wear a mask. They may not be the most effective option out there, but they certainly reduce the amount of polluted particles going into your lungs.

World pollution is everyone’s problem and you can also do your bit to help reduce your carbon print. If Mexico City was able to half the level of  pollution in two decades, surely we can do something to tackle the global pollution for a cleaner, fresher future.

[Images: Usfirstgov, David Leo Veksler]