Air quality readings by ‘citizen scientists’ are revealing a far worse picture than that acknowledged by officials, reports Meta EEB. While official data already demonstrates that the concentrations of certain harmful substances in Budapest’s air regularly exceed air quality limit values, the measurements by Clean Air Action Group (CAAG) highlight a further problem ignored by officials: ultrafine particulate matter (UFPs).
Data collected in Budapest by CAAG suggests that air pollution in the city is far more harmful than that recorded by official measuring stations. The death rate from air pollution in Hungary is said to be the second-highest in the world, coming just behind China: about 10,000 people die prematurely in the country each year because of diseases linked to poor air quality. Although Budapest’s air can contain a vast number of UFPs, their mass is so vanishingly small that official figures, which assess air pollution by measuring the weight of pollutants contained in one cubic metre, do not capture the magnitude of the problem.
According to measurements to date, in environments with a relatively clean urban air, the average number of UFPs is around 3,000 per cubic centimetre, while on busy Budapest roads this figure is usually 30,000 to 60,000 – ten to twenty times higher. In one case it even rose as high as 470,000. The new device also shows the average diameter of the particles measured, a feat beyond the capabilities of our previous device. Along busy roads, average particle diameter ranged between 40 and 60 nanometres. The mass of these particles’ is so small that even a concentration of 500,000 particles per cubic centimetre would not result in a breach of air quality limit values in an official measuring station.
Depending on their composition, ultrafine particles can also damage the brain. While airborne magnetite particles in the brain may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, some carcinogenic particles are associated with an increased risk of brain cancer. Another study has shown that UFPs can even infiltrate the placenta of pregnant women and harm the foetus.
Collecting evidence about the amount of ultrafine particles we breathe is the key to adopt adequate measures to cut air pollution and protect our health and environment. The CAAG is ready to assist local authorities to ensure that UFPs monitoring becomes a priority.