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New map offers a global view of health-sapping air pollution
Date:9/23/2010

untries that have had no estimates of air pollution levels until now.

The map shows very high levels of PM2.5 in a broad swath stretching from the Saharan Desert in Northern Africa to Eastern Asia. When compared with maps of population density, it suggests more than 80 percent of the world's population breathe polluted air that exceeds the World Health Organization's recommended level of 10 micrograms per cubic meter. Levels of PM2.5 are comparatively low in the United States, though noticeable pockets are clearly visible over urban areas in the Midwest and East.

"We still have plenty of work to do to refine this map, but it's a real step forward," said Martin, one of the atmospheric scientists who created the map."We hope this data will be useful in areas that don't have access to robust ground-based measurements."

Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it's nearly certain you've inhaled millions of PM2.5 particles. Though often invisible to humans, such particles are present everywhere in Earth's atmosphere, and they come from both natural and human sources. Researchers are still working to quantify the precise percentage of natural versus human-generated PM2.5, but it's clear that both types contribute to the hotspots that show up in the new map.

Wind, for example, lifts large amounts of mineral dust aloft in the Arabian and Saharan deserts. In many heavily urbanized areas, such as eastern China and northern India, power plants and factories that burn coal lack filters and produce a steady stream of sulfate and soot particles. Motor vehicle exhaust also creates significant amounts of nitrates and other particles. Both agricultural burning and diesel engines yield dark sooty particles scientists call black carbon.

Human-generated particles often predominate in urban air -- what most people actually breathe -- and these particles trouble medical experts the most, explained Arden Pope, an epidemiologist at Brigh
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Contact: Adam Voiland
avoiland@sesda2.com
301-352-4631
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Source:Eurekalert

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