US Climate and Health Alliance



While Governments Underestimate Current Impacts — Solutions to Air Pollution Would Improve Health, Economies, Transit, and Help Tackle Climate Change

May 2, 2017, London — Today, World Asthma Day, doctors, allied healthcare professionals, and public health practitioners around the world are officially launching Unmask My City, a global initiative to rally their peers and push for action on air pollution in 10 cities. Using air quality monitors, a smartphone app, and custom-built light masks that change colour according to ambient pollution levels, Unmask My City groups have measured, mapped and visualised air pollution levels between two and ten-times World Health Organization (WHO) standards for PM2.5 fine particulates, showing that poor quality air is a problem for almost everyone on earth.

“Health professionals recognize the threat that air pollution poses to their patients, and they feel a responsibility to speak out about it,” said Jeni Miller, Executive Director at Global Climate and Health Alliance. “Urban air pollution is getting worse in many places, and its effect on human health and the health of the global climate is also worse than was previously known. By overhauling transport and energy systems in our cities, we can help achieve a safe climate and improve public health, build stronger economies, and enhance quality of life in ways that benefit everyone.”

Cities represented by partner organizations include: Sao Paulo, Brazil; Chennai, India; Warsaw, Poland; Belgrade, Serbia; Emalahleni, South Africa; Adana, Hatay, and Istanbul, Turkey; London, UK; and Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. In some of the cities, local government is underestimating the impact of air pollution on public health, setting limits vastly exceeding World Health Organization standards for safe levels. Worldwide, 92 percent of the human race lives in places that do not meet World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

From London to Sao Paulo, Istanbul to Salt Lake City, Warsaw to Chennai, people are regularly exposed to harmful levels of air pollution. For example, in London, despite awareness being high and there being plenty of blue-sky days, air pollution still causes an estimated 9,400 premature deaths and over 3,400 hospital admissions a year.

“Medical literature clearly demonstrates the overwhelming health impacts of air pollution and climate change on human health, wellbeing, and development,” said Dr Nick Watts, Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. “Children are worst affected, with diseases suffered in early life affecting them for decades to come. Through the Unmask My City campaign, doctors and nurses around the world are fighting these impacts first hand – both in the clinic and in the role as advocates for the public’s health.”

In order to meet the WHO’s guidelines for healthy air by 2030, cities must act now and put air pollution reductions on a downward spiral by 2020. Doing so will also turn around the global trend of increasing climate pollution. Cities offer the largest and fastest win-win for improving public health and preventing runaway climate change.

A series of images for each city, video, a global fact sheet and fact sheets pertaining to each city, and a campaign backgrounder containing links to key reports on air pollution are all available via the Unmask My City press kit located here. Spokespeople are also available for interview.

About Unmask My City
Unmask My City is a global initiative galvanizing health professionals to foster the adoption of policies in their communities that will reduce air pollution in support of the WHO 2030 goals for healthy air in cities around the world, and grow awareness of this health issue among the health sector. The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA), Health Care Without Harm, the Health and Environment Alliance, the US Climate and Health Alliance, the UK Health Alliance for Climate Change — and their membership organisations.

About the light masks

The technology has three parts:

  1. An AirBeam air quality monitor made by US NGO HabitatMap (open source, can be built or purchased for $250). This measures PM2.5 particulate matter and personal pollution maps to be made by bluetoothing it to:
  2. The AirCasting smartphone app, also by Habitatmap. This plots the readings for the device on a google map, which can be crowdsourced into online pollution maps of a city.
  3. An LED light mask. Built by Greg McNevin, it changes colour in real time according to the measurements from the AirBeam/AirCasting measurements.

The AirBeam measures PM2.5 particulates and provides estimates of micrograms (one-millionth of a gram) per cubic meter air (µg/m3). The scale it uses is based on the revised Air Quality Index for PM2.5. The colours mean:

  • Green: Good quality air with little to no risk.
  • Yellow: Moderate risks for those unusually sensitive to air pollution.
  • Orange: Unhealthy for sensitive groups.
  • Red: Unhealthy for everyone, with sensitive groups potentially facing serious health effects.