Environment

First Air Quality Profile of Two Sub-Saharan African Cities Finds Troubling News

Ambient air pollution is a global public health crisis, causing more than 4.9 million premature deaths per year around the world. In Africa, it has surpassed AIDS as the leading cause of premature death.

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According to one study, air pollution—specifically, fine particulate matter (PM2.5)—may cause at least as many as 780,000 premature deaths annually in Africa and worsen a significant number of diseases, including asthma, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, are both large metropolises. However, neither Kinshasa (population 14. 3 million) nor Brazzaville (population 2.4 million) have had comprehensive air quality monitoring programs. There are no national ambient air quality standards in either country, according to an analysis done by the UN Environment Programme.

A new study, led by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory atmospheric scientist Daniel Westervelt and Columbia University undergraduate student Celeste McFarlane, has yielded the first-ever multi-year ambient PM2.5 dataset in Kinshasa and Brazzaville. The team deployed a cadre of low-cost sensors and interpreted data in the context of changing weather and changing human activity related to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. The study was supported by two local universities and their scientists in both cities, and is published online on Aerosol and Air Quality Research.

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