The state of air pollution in Israel is not delightful to say the least. According to the 2017 UNICEF report, air pollution levels in urban parts of Israel measured at 23.5 mg per square meters.
This is more than twice the maximum quantity permitted by the World Health Organization, which places Israel 37th in a list of 38 developed countries. For comparison, in the 1990s pollution in Israel was 16 mg per square meter.
According to an OECD study, 2,240 deaths were recorded in these countries in 2015 as an indirect result of air pollution - a figure higher than the number of both traffic accident and terror attack casualties that year.
According to the WHO’s measurements, Israel is ranked fourth from the bottom among all member states in terms of the quantity of polluted air particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers and below.
In a 2014 study by the World Health Organization, which measured pollution with particles of a diameter of 10 micrometers and below across 1600 cities around the world, Israel recorded the highest pollution level of all the western countries and was ranked 12th of all countries of the world.
The threat is invisible and does not have an immediate effect
One of the biggest problems with air pollution is that it cannot be seen and its effects are not immediate. Nevertheless, it is one of the most significant threats to our health.
Air pollution occurs when the air contains substances, which are not part of its desired natural composition - chemicals, either biological or natural, in a concentration that exceeds the defined dangerous threshold. Air pollution has two main types of cause - man-made, such as transport, industry, agricultural cremations, etc., and natural - natural fires, dust storms, etc.
As of 2019, air pollution has been defined as the gravest threat to public health by the World Health Organization. According to the WHO’s data, 92% of the world’s population resides in places where air pollution exceeds recommended levels.
According to the WHO’s data, as of 2012, approximately seven million deaths around the world have been connected to air pollution. Current estimations have reached as high as 8.8 million deaths resulting indirectly from air pollution, inter alia, as the result of heart diseases, strokes, pulmonary diseases and lung cancer.
Most of us experience the short-term effects of pollution with different levels of severity: headaches, pneumonia, bronchitis, itchy throat and cough. The long-term hazards, on the other hand, are the less familiar ones.
Air pollution can also have a long-term effect, which could last from several years to one’s whole life, ranging from respiratory diseases, heart diseases, cancer, kidney and liver functions, effects on the brain, impaired fertility among both sexes, and even dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Can civilians measure air pollution?
Dr. Gabriela Adler, Chief Scientist for BreezoMeter, a company that provides real-time air quality data at a 500-meter resolution, reports on levels of allergenic pollen, and gives alerts for nearby wildfires, says that “as far as quality of air is concerned, it is important that we realize that it is very dynamic and varies from one hour to the next and from one location to another, at very small distance.”
The air quality next to a road differs from that of a park far from the road, she says. “It is an intuitive feeling, but one that is now also empirically proven”.
In order to measure air pollution levels, one must check gases and particles that are present within the air in various concentrations. Each type of pollution has its own measure. “Pollution is measured by governmental measurement stations”, says Dr. Adler, with the main problem being the great distance between stations.
“Stations in Australia are located 1,000 kilometers apart. In addition, data is received with a delay of several hours, which proves extremely troublesome, since pollution is very dynamic”. These delays in measurement can prove critical at times, e.g. in the cases of fires or dust storms that are not reported in real-time but nevertheless impact the air quality significantly.
The public can understand the level of air pollution around them using an ‘Air Pollution Index’, which links the concentration of pollutants with effects on health. These indexes are defined differently by each government but are mostly based on the severity level of pollutant with the most dangerous concentration.
The connection between the sun and air pollution
In addition to suffering from urban and industrial pollution, Israel is also located in a desert area; it is therefore not uncommon to see and feel dust storms that bring along a decrease in the quality of the air. We are all only too familiar with those days when the sky turns orange and we struggle to breathe.
“One of the pollutant examples in Israel, which we can neither see nor feel, is ozone”, tells Dr. Adler. “It is a gas that is not emitted by any industry, but rather generated in the atmosphere, whenever the sun is present. Israel has an abundance of sunshine, and consequently very high ozone levels. In comparison, the recommended global standard for an eight-hour exposure is 100 mcg, but in Israel it is as high as 140 mcg. There is not much we can do to counter this situation - we are in a sunny location”.
A study conducted in collaboration with numerous universities and agencies involved in air pollution measurement around the world has revealed that Gush Etzion is one of the most polluted places in the world in terms of ozone level.
Making the right life decisions based on air pollution
Because air pollution is highly dynamic and changes even between very small areas, we could reduce the exposure of our families to air pollution if we knew more about the air quality in our vicinity at certain hours.
“For example, if we know that ozone levels tend to rise in the afternoon, and we plan to go for a run, where we breathe 3 times as much air, it would be recommended to avoid such activity at that time of the day and move it to a more suitable hour”, Dr. Adler explains. “Even when taking a baby to the park - we can choose the right location and go at the right time”.
She continues: "In order to complete the picture of pollution at any given moment and at every location, we collect data from governmental measuring stations, over 47,000 sensors, transport trends analysis and data received from satellites and pollutant distribution models - and use machine learning to link all the information and give real-time real time information on air pollution”, says Dr. Adler. “This way, a uniform pollution index is created, which anyone can use to take preventive action”.
Dyson’s use of air quality data for their line of domestic air purifiers shows how external air pollution data greatly benefits the individual end-user.
In order to enable end users to decide if and when to activate their purifier, Dyson uses outdoor air quality information in the immediate vicinity of the home, so that users can decide accordingly whether they should close the window and activate the purifier or not.
At the end of the day, this increases awareness and gives us all the possibility to take responsibility for ourselves and our families and make better decisions at any given moment.