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Pollution: how & where you holiday

Air pollution is on the rise.

Emissions from transport are a major contributor to air pollution. They release nitrogen dioxides and fine particles, leading to local pollution especially in urban areas. The most damaging type of outdoor air pollution is fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5 ). These particles are particularly dangerous because they are small enough to work their way deep into the lungs and bloodstream, where they can trigger heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and asthma.

The level of these particles in the air is measured in micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). It is usually given as an average yearly amount for a particular area.

According to the work of Richard and Elizabeth Muller at Berkeley Earth, an air pollution level of 22µg/m3 is the equivalent to breathing one cigarette.

Other sources contributing to PM2.5 concentrations can come from afar however, as there have been many occasions where ‘Saharan dust’ has triggered respiratory problems in the UK population, but the dust has been found to contain these fine particulates and ammonium nitrate picked up along the way through Europe.

Air pollution reduces overall life expectancy in healthy individuals, but in combination with other existing health conditions can also cause early death.

For all these reasons, its probably a good idea to look at where you holiday and what transport you’ll take.  Although the most polluted cities are in China and India, other tourist hotspots such as Los Angeles, Tokyo and Paris are also highly polluted.

In terms of transport, large boats and ships pump out huge amounts of diesel PM, and greenhouse gas emissions, but also sulphur oxides, and nitrogen oxides in their puffs of black smoke.

Per day one cruise ship emits as much particulate matter as a million cars. Thirty cruise ships pollute as much as all the cars in the United Kingdom.

Although you may be visiting countries or islands with clean air, breathing in the pollution from cruise ships is having a negative impact on the environment and your health.

While the deck is popular with sun-bathers, passengers are likely to be breathing some of these particulates, which are harmful for health and the environment. 

Our advice is obvious- don’t stay in polluted cities or near large ports for too long. Not all boats cause pollution, sailing boats and yachts with small engines are a much better option for your health for short journeys like island hopping. If you can’t avoid the big boats, stay inside and don’t go on deck where the air is at its worst.

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unsplash