Institute for Sustainability

Linking Air Pollution With Disease

Linking air pollution with disease

Research led by Dr Anil Namdeo, Dr Paul Goodman, Prof Richard Walker and Divya Namdeo, has assessed exposure to air pollution in both indoor and outdoor environments for a representative population in rural Northern Tanzania, including mine workers.

People exposed to air pollution are at risk of acquiring chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), amongst other ailments. 20% of people identified with the disease globally do not have a history of smoking, and it is often an undiagnosed condition. For the mining industry there are a range of measures that could be taken to help prevent COPD in workers.

What was the focus of the research?

Researchers aimed to address ways to reduce life threatening illnesses and deaths from air pollution by identifying residents' and mine workers' exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Participants in the research included miners of the mineral tanzanite and members of their families, such as women, who are exposed to biomass fuels when cooking. Both residents’ and miners’ exposure to particulate matter (PM) was tested and recorded, in total 800 hours of data were collected monitoring levels of PM10 (particulate matter 1-10 microns in diameter), the threshold for respirable particles.

Why is it important?

Air pollution is a ubiquitous problem that impacts public health leading to debilitating illness and even death. There is currently a need for cities, industry and rural areas to work together to monitor and reduce air contaminants, especially for people who are most vulnerable to them.

Who could benefit?

  • Participants in the research in Tanzania as well as other countries affected by indoor pollution caused by burning biomass or workers that are also exposed to high levels of air pollution.
  • Governments, NGOs, medical practitioners and others working to mitigate air pollution, especially in the context of sustainable development.

What was found?

  • Air pollution in mines could be reduced by over 90% if miners are provided with masks and water sprinklers during blasting operations.
  • A new analytical tool has been developed to analyse portable air monitor data; advanced statistical analyses, charts, frequency distribution, occurrence of peaks and their duration are available.
  • Indoor residential data shows that residents were in an environment that exceeded PM10 concentrations of 100 μg/ m3 45% of the time.
  • In mines extremely high levels were recorded, exceeding the upper cut-off (20,000 μg/m3) of the monitoring instruments.
  • Whilst only one of the fifteen mines examined was in breach of UK COSHH limits for maximum workplace dust levels, worker protection at all mines was minimal.
  • Average concentrations recorded at the mines were higher than those from residences, but only by a factor of 1% in the case of ‘indoor’ residential levels versus ‘rear-of-shaft’ mine levels.
Linking air pollution with disease