The Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) has asked citizens to start taking personal strategies to protect themselves from air pollution.
In a release published in early December based on an article in the scientific journal European Respiratory Journal, the medical society warns that deaths from pollution have been underestimated and that it is necessary for people to start taking their own measures individually because “only the public policies that are put in place are not enough.”
Among the recommendations presented in the document (they are included in full below) appear some such as walking through the streets with less traffic, avoiding exercising in areas with high levels of pollution or wearing N95 masks, despite not being efficient for all gases or particles.
Dr. Isabel Urrutia from SEPAR is aware that these are very limited measures. “It should not be misleading,” he explains by phone, “this is just one more performance in a set of actions that we must carry out, but not the main one. Those most involved are actually the administrations that should take courageous measures, but politicians have a hard time taking steps that are not politically correct and involve opposition.
Isabel Urrutia gives the example of Bilbao, the city where she lives and which recently limited traffic speed to 30 km per hour on all its streets. “The citizens do not want mortality or disease,” he says, “but when action is taken to reduce pollution, they protest. That is why it is necessary that there be a calm scientific dissemination in which the message of how bad pollution is is transmitted, which is more than proven ”.
For Julio Díaz, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of the Instituto de Salud Carlos III, however, it is dangerous to emphasize the responsibility of the individual. Although tips to minimize risks are always helpful, in their opinion it is questionable whether they can be adopted, to begin with a basic problem: how do individuals know when there is a lot of pollution?
“The citizen does not normally have that information and, in most cases, the data that he can find refers to past dates and not to reliable forecasts,” he explains, “so how are you going to decide what time to go? to go out to exercise? For this, there should be good information systems that allow them to make these decisions ”.
And that’s in case you have a choice. “You can stop drinking one type of water or choose between several types of food, but with air I can’t choose,” he says. “You do not have to pass the problem on to the citizen, or at least you have to be very careful, because in the end there is a lot of information that is lacking and the responsibility that you can breathe clean air is the administration.”
Isabel Urrutia believes that solutions must be sought from all areas: politicians, doctors, patients or citizens. “We talk about it being something that not only affects chronic respiratory patients, with relapses and admissions, but now there is also evidence that it is a risk factor for developing asthma or COPD. We see children with decreased lung function without ever having smoked. And it is also a cause of respiratory infections. Pollution is very bad and that is the message that must be transmitted ”.
Recommendations to minimize ambient air pollution:
• Wear tight-fitting particulate respirators, such as N95 masks, when air pollution levels are high or traveling to areas with high ambient levels of air pollution.
• Switch from motorized transportation to active transportation, such as walking or cycling.
• Choose travel routes that minimize traffic near the road to avoid exposure to air pollution, where there is little traffic, routes and tours with open spaces, minimize travel during peak hours and avoid delays in high-traffic areas. air pollution when possible.
• Optimizing the driving style and handling of the vehicle, such as driving with the windows closed in traffic, maintaining the car’s air filtration systems, and avoiding idling.
• Exercise outdoors regularly, but in moderation when there are high levels of air pollution.
• Be aware of local contamination levels.
Recommendations to minimize personal exposure to household air pollution:
• Use clean fuels and ensure that the home is ventilated where possible and adopt stove improvements where resources are sufficient.
• Use portable air cleaners in combination with measures to reduce the source of household consumption, air pollution, and strategies to improve ventilation.
And, finally, this publication appeals to citizens to bear in mind that there are two more recommendations that can be modifiers of the effects of pollution:
• Dealing with asthma, COPD or other respiratory conditions, as having these diseases under control is crucial to combat the increased risk of environmental or household air pollution.
• Modify the diet and supplement it with antioxidants or inflammatory agents, because a balanced diet is associated with a decreased risk of chronic diseases.