Big Solutions to Tiny Particles: Innovative Solutions Can Help Tackle Air-Quality Challenges for the U.S and our Neighbors

4 minutes read time
Coal-fired scherer.
Coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation's top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Juliette, Ga.

Big Solutions to Tiny Particles: Innovative Solutions Can Help Tackle Air-Quality Challenges for the U.S and our Neighbors

Air pollution is the fourth leading risk factor in premature death worldwide according to the World Health Organization, leading to about 5.5 million premature deaths in 2013 alone.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that air pollution—some of it from sources outside our borders—is responsible for about 200,000 premature deaths each year in the United States.

In addition to its negative health effects, air pollution profoundly affects the environment and the global economy.  Air pollution can stunt plant growth, causing billions in global agricultural productivity losses per year—losses that are expected to reach as much as $35 billion annually by the year 2030.  According to the World Bank, the economic welfare losses associated with air pollution-related mortality reach over $5 trillion globally per year. 

The United States has a long and successful history of combatting air pollution.  Thanks to our innovative private sector, our experience shows that reducing air pollution does not need to come at a cost to the economy.  Between 1970 and 2014, we saw dramatic reductions in air pollution, while the U.S. gross domestic product increased by 238 percent.  In recent years, more efficient engines and electric and hybrid technologies have led to cleaner vehicles.  Scrubbers and other pollution-control devices for traditional energy sources, along with advances in renewable energy, have made our power sources less polluting.  Also, robust air-quality monitoring networks help us understand the sources of air pollution and enforce clean air laws. 

This knowledge inspires us to hope that ongoing advances in new technologies and more extensive use of current solutions will continue to help decrease air pollution, both in the United States and around the world.  To discuss the global challenge of air pollution and potential solutions, the State Department hosted an air-quality roundtable on June 14, bringing together international organizations, Latin American government officials, and U.S. private sector representatives.  The UN Environment Programme and the World Bank discussed global programs to raise awareness, analyze, and improve air-quality policies; Mexico, Peru, and Chile shared their countries’ new and ongoing programs; and private-sector representatives discussed both proven and cutting-edge technology solutions for air-quality monitoring and mitigation.

The U.S. Department of State hosted an air-quality roundtable on June 14, 2017.

As awareness of the effects of air pollution increases and nations around the world implement new and updated policies to address it, we believe there are exciting opportunities for the private sector to contribute to solutions —through exports of leading U.S. technological solutions and improved our understanding of air pollution.

Through trade-related environmental cooperation programs, the United States already partners with several Western Hemisphere countries—including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic—on air-quality solutions.  Additionally, the U.S. EPA has a long history of successful collaboration with Mexico on air quality, including work in Mexico City and efforts to address air pollution that crosses the United States-Mexico border.  The EPA also recently launched a “Megacities Partnership” in Santiago, Chile, designed to enhance, adapt and share air-quality management tools, and to help position Chile as a regional model for addressing air quality in countries with similar air-quality issues.  The United States believes it is important to continue to work with governments and organizations to design and implement effective air-quality management policies and to highlight U.S. technologies that will help tackle the challenge of air pollution. 

When the air-quality index is high, indicating high levels of air pollution, be sure to protect yourself and your family.  Visit this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website and learn how here:  https://airnow.gov.  

About the Author: Judith G. Garber, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.