I have spent the past year writing about the importance of children’s early years of life. This project has taken me around the world, from India to Mongolia to France and the US. In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I saw how air pollution can ruin kids’ health, keep them out of school, and affect their normal development. I also saw how the burning of fossil fuels can make large cities unlivable: On one given day in Ulaanbaatar, pollution levels reached 150 times the WHO limit. This is important because more than 90% of the world’s 1.8 billion children are exposed to toxic air pollutants, so Mongolia holds lessons for us all. I’m looking forward to answering any questions you have.

EDIT THURSDAY 4 pm EST/8 pm GMT

Thank you for asking so many great questions! I have to sign off for the day now, but I know I left many questions unanswered and so I’ll try to come back tomorrow to answer them and any more you might have.

EDIT FRIDAY 10 AM EST/2PM GMT

I'm signing off! Thank you to everyone who read my story and asked thoughtful questions. You made my first Reddit experience a really great one. And thanks for hosting me r/IAmA.

https://qz.com/1557026/mongolias-air-pollution-crisis-is-the-future-of-our-cities/

https://youtu.be/QcS3ovdsgNI

Proof: https://i.redd.it/p5kjqrp35ql21.jpg

Comments: 322 • Responses: 73  • Date: 

EscobarExports222 karma

What are some effects that everyone should know about pollution?

QuartzNews316 karma

Hi there! So the biggest thing to know is that fine pollution particles like PM 10 or PM 2.5 are toxic to the human body, and especially for little kids. Being exposed to high levels of these particles on a daily basis increases kids' risk of asthma and recurring or chronic respiratory conditions, impairs lung function, and has also been linked to lower cognitive development, meaning that it can actually get in the way of the normal development of children's brains. In adults, fine air pollution particles can increase your risk of heart disease, respiratory infections, and serious cases of asthma, among other things.

The World Health Organization estimates that "worldwide ambient air pollution accounts for 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer, 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection, 24% of all deaths from stroke, 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease, and 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease." https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/health-impacts/en/

To cut a long story short: it's really, really bad for you.

unctuous_equine46 karma

Just looked up PM 10 and PM 2.5 particles. Dang PM 2.5 are smaaaalll. Do home filters block PM 2.5? What upgrades to residential homes in cities can people implement to increase their health? (US)

QuartzNews108 karma

They really are small. If you're curious to see how they travel inside the human body to cause all these health problems, I recommend this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcS3ovdsgNI&feature=youtu.be

To be transparent, I actually had to look up the answer to your question. A nomadic yurt in Mongolia is a very different beast from an apartment or house in the US. But the EPA has a handy guide listing some of the best things you can do to protect yourself from indoor air pollution in a private residence, including installing air filters that are designed to block out pollutants and increasing ventilation sources in your home (though if ambient air pollution is bad in your city, you may want to avoid bringing outside air in): https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/improving-indoor-air-quality

linsage8 karma

How do we know if we live in a place with this kind of pollution? How can we prevent our children from being effected? Does wearing face masks or nostril filters actually help?

QuartzNews7 karma

Many cities share public Air Quality Index readings online, so the first step is to check if yours does. Then, there are preventative measures you can put in place, such as making your kids wear N99 masks outside on days where the pollution is bad, changing your kids' route to school to avoid main thoroughfares, installing air filters in your home (I'm no expert on this but there are some great threads in this AMA where people have suggested types/models that work well).

Hatsuwr6 karma

I was in Ulaanbaatar for a month or so. I knew the air could get bad, but didn't realize it was that bad. Although I do remember exercise seeming quite a bit more difficult...

Gonna be tough to fix the problem though. Not a very rich country, and it seemed like a good amount of the pollution was from household coal burning. The infrastructure and majority of residential buildings don't seem like they would facilitate the installation centralized heating or extensive gas lines.

Hope they make progress though; it's a very interesting place.

QuartzNews1 karma

Absolutely! The kinds of measures needed to really make a dent in this problem are really expensive and require a fundamental change in the city's infrastructure and energy consumption. That's why experts say the government's vision of a "pollution-free" Ulaanbaatar by 2020 is a little optimistic ...

shapte5 karma

I gotta say this AMA is a godsend for me. I genuinely think pollution is gonna be this century’s smoking/asbestos/radium cream times 100 and our children and grandchildren are gonna ask why we didn’t all do something.

Myself, I live in the most polluted EU capital and while everyone sees diesels literally everywhere and the EU Commission started infringement procedures over excessive pollution, it’s difficult for my countrymen to visualize statistics like the ones you quote. I guess my question is can you do an ELI5 on exactly how we reach those statistics and how pollution directly affects ourselves and our young children?

Thanks a lot.

Edit: drunk spelling

QuartzNews1 karma

I'm glad you find it helpful! And I'm sorry you are exposed to that kind of pollution.

I would certainly consider doing one, but I'm not an expert on how these kinds of detailed air particle/air quality index readings are calculated. Though at this point I know a lot about how it directly affects you or your young children, so if you have any specific questions about that, feel free to ask me.

valievaly69 karma

Are the local authorities in Ulaanbaatar doing anything to combat the problem? If so, what have they been doing/ planning on doing?

QuartzNews120 karma

That's a great question with a complicated answer. The government banned internal migration into Ulaanbaatar until 2020 to try to to limit the number of people contributing to the city's air pollution problem (More people means more coal-burning chimneys, more traffic jams, overcrowded schools, and electricity shortages). They've banned the use of unrefined coal in Ulaanbaatar starting in May 2019 and offered to subsidize electricity for poor households in ger districts at nights. They've also committed to a pollution-free Ulaanbaatar by 2020 in their Sustainable Vision. And they've worked with international partners like the World Bank and the UN to install air filters in hospitals and schools. https://montsame.mn/en/read/132984

But a lot of people I spoke with in Mongolia said the government isn't doing enough. They compared these efforts to putting a bandaid on a bullet wound: The only thing that will really help is getting rid of all coal burning in the city and transitioning to clean energy. But like I wrote, that would mean "connecting all ger district houses to a central heating system; improving the city’s electric capacity; subsidizing electricity so it’s cheap enough that people can transition from coal; insulating and upgrading buildings to make them more sustainable; and moving all the coal power plants out of the city." And that's expensive and a logistical nightmare.

SDRigby42 karma

What did it feel like to be in such a polluted environment? What precautions did you take to protect yourself?

QuartzNews107 karma

It wasn't fun. I have asthma, so I wasn't immune to some of the worst effects of the ambient air pollution. When I was outside I struggled to breathe, and I have to say it wasn't that much better inside. To protect myself, I kept all the windows closed and constantly wore a certified N99 face mask (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/default.html). But the mask is uncomfortable and, in its own way, it makes breathing difficult too.

I think that experiencing first-hand how harsh daily life can be in the winter in Ulaanbaatar helped me write a more empathetic story, because I really understood where people were coming from when they told me they kept their kids indoors at all times or escaped the city whenever they could afford to. It's easy to take breathing fresh air for granted when you don't have to think about it every day; but in Mongolia, that's pretty much all I thought about.

ashendruk40 karma

Great piece! Do you know why the pollution levels peak in the morning and evening?

QuartzNews92 karma

That's actually pretty simple: People are home in the mornings and evenings and they burn coal to heat themselves and to cook in their yurts. It's also colder during those times — I went to a ger district at 9 AM and it was -23°C !

CorrHC37 karma

Aside from the physical implications of pollution, what are the psychological effects on the children and their parents? I imagine it must be a huge source of anxiety and stress raising kids here and knowing they're at a high risk for developing life-threatening conditions.

QuartzNews65 karma

Absolutely. I spoke to families who told me they're keeping their kids out of school so they don't have to go outside (which has a huge negative impact on their school readiness levels). In fact, the government recently extended schools’ winter holidays to encourage parents to do just that. Many families told me they send their kids out of the city to live with relatives in the countryside, which can be hard on kids. And then there's the toll of everyone getting sick during the winter. One mom I spoke with, who was pregnant with her second child, described being in and out of the health clinic constantly and being exhausted and scared for her baby. And studies have shown that serious air pollution, the kind that keeps people inside at all times and sedentary, can lead "to psychological distress or social isolation." https://www.washington.edu/news/2017/11/02/how-air-pollution-clouds-mental-health/

blonderdhd33 karma

Thank you for what you do! I live in North Texas and was shocked to discover we have some of the worst air pollution in the country. What can I do locally to encourage legislation?

QuartzNews43 karma

Hi! I can imagine that's shocking, but awareness is the first step. I would say there are things you can do personally to reduce your contributions to air pollution, but ultimately any meaningful reduction will require systemic change. If I were you, I would start by researching which specific factors contribute to air pollution in North Texas, then I would find out which (if any) organizations are working in this space for anti-pollution measures to be put in place, and as a third step I would advise you to contact your local representative to see what they are doing about it and how you can help.

blonderdhd7 karma

Great advice, thank you! Yes it is shocking and as a new mom to a 2 month old it's really concerning.

QuartzNews4 karma

I can imagine, and I wish you both all the best. For resources on how to protect babies against air pollution, see here: https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/air-pollution.aspx

Dartastic14 karma

What was it like walking around these cities, especially without any sort of protection? What can you expect, as a normal, healthy human being, when you walk around these environments? What does it FEEL like, emotionally and physically?

QuartzNews46 karma

Thanks for asking this question. First, I want to say I did have some protection: I was wearing a certified N99 face mask the whole time. I tried to minimize the time I spent walking outside, especially because it was so very cold.

The biggest shock for me was the day that I visited Erdene, a district about 80 kilometers outside of Ulaanbaatar. There was almost zero pollution there and I had never felt so grateful for fresh air. I felt a huge sense of relief, followed by sadness, because more than 45% of the country's population lives in Ulaanbaatar and for many of them, moving to a cleaner place like Erdene is just not an option. So they are stuck making a choice between their livelihoods and their family's health, and that's a choice no one should ever have to make.

vickymal12 karma

Which cities in India did you visit and how bad was the air pollution in Indian cities as compared with Ulaanbaatar?

QuartzNews32 karma

For this story I only visited Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. But I've visited India for other stories and seen how bad the air pollution levels are there. In fact, as I cite in my piece, a recent analysis of annual PM 2.5 concentrations conducted by Greenpeace found that 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/mar/05/india-home-to-22-of-worlds-30-most-polluted-cities-greenpeace-says

Overall, the most polluted Indian cities have worse annual PM 2.5 concentrations than Ulaanbaatar does. But that's because the pollution is only really bad in Mongolia during the winter months. So, for a third of the year, the air quality there isn't bad, whereas in some Indian cities, the air quality is bad all year. And during the winter months, PM 2.5 concentrations in Ulaanbaatar can reach much higher levels than those recorded in New Delhi for example. Scientists just don't know how to answer this question: Is it worse to be exposed to more pollution over a shorter period of time, or less pollution all the time?

samosama3 karma

I'm with small kids in Kathmandu, and air pollution levels are similar to Ulaanbaatar in parts of the city. We use N99 masks but the smallest refuses to wear them, and air purifiers in the house, office and school (though with windows/doors often open that doesn't help very much). Do you have any advice on minimising the effect?

QuartzNews2 karma

You just listed some of the more common measures individuals can take to protect themselves from air pollution, so unfortunately there's not much more I can recommend, other than really insisting your child wears the mask at all times, and speaking to the school about not leaving any windows open and considering installing filters on the windows and building a vestibule to keep the outside air from coming in. The EPA has some tips here: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/fundamentals-indoor-air-quality-buildings Best of luck!

samosama2 karma

Thanks that's great advice. Actually I have one more tip - there's certain plants that improve the air, some more efficiently than others and some plants filter certain things that others don't. So filling the house with these types of plants apparently also works well.

noobkill1 karma

Could you suggest a few plants?

QuartzNews3 karma

Unfortunately evidence shows that house plants don't significantly filter out air pollutants: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/03/indoor-plants-clean-air-best-none-them/584509/

ZetTheLegendaryHero10 karma

How did you keep yourself healthy in these conditions, and why can't that work for the locals?

QuartzNews26 karma

I wore a N99 face mask to filter out the fine particles. The biggest problem in Ulaanbaatar isn't that people don't have access to masks, it's that they don't necessarily wear them OR they don't wear them correctly (in which case they become basically useless). That's especially a problem for kids, because their faces are tiny and the masks are usually too big and so they don't fit.

hadentissk8 karma

What's your favorite type of pizza?

QuartzNews12 karma

I like a simple cheese pizza with mushrooms.

Sadly, I didn't eat any pizza while I was in Ulaanbaatar. Tasty Indian food though.

ispeakdatruf1 karma

Tasty Indian food though.

What, what? There's Indian food in Ulanbaatar?!?

QuartzNews1 karma

Yes, some of the best I've had!

MRImpossible096 karma

What’s your favourite dinner?

QuartzNews35 karma

My favorite dish in the world is couscous. It takes forever to cook though, and easy to get wrong. Beware.

While I was in Mongolia I tasted Mongolian BBQ, which is basically hotpot with different types of meat and vegetables. It was really good.

MRImpossible099 karma

Wow wasn’t actually expecting a reply. I’ll ask a question worth your time then; what was the most difficult part of all this for you? Both mentally and physically

QuartzNews29 karma

Hey, thanks (though food is always worth my time).

The most difficult part of reporting this story was dealing with the impact air pollution had on me. For five days I couldn't sleep (the 8 hour jet lag didn't help) or concentrate or walk up more than a flight of stairs. I was very irritable and probably no fun to be around for my translator. I knew it would be bad but I didn't know how bad.

MRImpossible097 karma

Jet lag is a bitch sometimes. I hope your feeling better and that you don’t have to do all that again! Have a nice afternoon/morning/night/day!

QuartzNews9 karma

Thank you, same to you.

zeropointninerepeat5 karma

Hey we share a semi-rare name, and the correct spelling too!

I was wondering, how do you deal with climate-change deniers?

Teshguy2 karma

I’m not a professional by any sense, but I have had some success in talking with climate change deniers. I find that using facts and figures doesn’t work. If they don’t believe in climate change now, no amount of data will ever change their minds. I find that the best way to change their minds is to try different approaches. The one I usually take is arguing through emotion. Usually I think, “what does this person really care about? How will climate change impact it?”

A great example that I usually use is the outdoors or hunting. Most people where I’m from that deny climate change are big outdoorsmen. It’s very easy to appeal to them by talking about how climate change will effect their hunting seasons or how it will drastically change their nature, often times for the worse.

QuartzNews3 karma

That's useful advice for everyone! Thanks.

QuartzNews2 karma

Hi, great name!

As much as possible, I try to understand why they refuse to believe in climate change and then share relevant evidence on its effects. That rarely works, though, and I don't have a good answer to this problem. I would recommend these two articles on the topic:

https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/ask-a-scientist-how-to-deal-with-a-climate-change-skeptic

https://theconversation.com/why-we-should-stop-labelling-people-climate-change-deniers-105555

LurkinLark4 karma

I was unfamiliar with Ulaanbataar and wondered what you considered to be their main source of pollution? I grew up in the “Steel City” and knew our city was producing steel-I read reports in the 80’s about “lead poisoning” being associated with our toxic air-pollution, are you seeing lead poisoning in your studies?

QuartzNews4 karma

I love Pittsburgh! Especially the Andy Warhol Museum.

The main source of air pollution in Ulaanbaatar is people burning coal and other polluting materials in their homes for heating and cooking: http://time.com/longform/ulan-bator-mongolia-most-polluted-capital/

To be completely honest I don't know enough about the association between lead and air pollution in Mongolia to answer you confidently. It's definitely something I will look into, though.

ssibalnomah4 karma

how bad is seoul?

QuartzNews11 karma

This is a live Air Quality Index monitor for Seoul so you can keep yourself updated on pollution levels at any given time: https://aqicn.org/city/seoul/ (It has all the different readings you need, including PM 2.5, PM 10, etc.)

erics251 karma

Is it worth it for Americans to travel to Korea to live or visit during this time or will even a year or two there cause long term health problems? Im having trouble securing long term work here in my field so thinking of going.

QuartzNews4 karma

I'm not qualified to answer that question, but if you're concerned about your health there, you should definitely speak to a healthcare professional before making the big move.

HardekAilawadi3 karma

How do you plan on creating awareness about this issue in the world,especially in developing countries?

QuartzNews11 karma

Thanks for this question. As a journalist, the best thing I can do is to write stories about this and hope that people read them and engage with them, as you are all doing. I'm not an activist but I do advocate for clean air as a human right for everyone, and I hope that by bringing the stories of people in Mongolia for example to the attention of others who normally wouldn't hear about them, I will contribute in a tiny way to an important conversation.

49orth3 karma

Air pollution from industry and autos have been linked to chronic neurological diseases like alzheimers and dementia. Did you see or hear of any concerns about this affecting youth as they get older?

QuartzNews13 karma

You're right that studies suggest that exposure to certain air pollutants may be linked with a higher risk of dementia, though I'd stress that research isn't conclusive yet. See: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/18/air-pollution-causes-jump-in-dementia-risk-study-suggests and https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/air-pollution-and-dementia

I didn't hear any concerns about this while I was in Mongolia, but I believe that has more to do with lack of knowledge than lack of concern. Everywhere I went, I talked to people who knew air pollution was bad for them but didn't know exactly how bad or why it was bad. That's why international organizations like the WHO or UN are leading a lot of workshops in schools etc. because they say the first challenge is awareness-raising.

49orth2 karma

Thanks and I have great respect and appreciation for your work and that of your colleagues and associates. I wish you success and health! p.s. I recommend The Nature of Things, S56E52, "Something In The Air", which is about air pollution and health.

QuartzNews5 karma

Thank you for saying that, and for the recommendation. I will check it out!

webbie043 karma

Are you aware of any studies around shorter term exposure to poor air quality (months vs years)? Due to forest fires last year many towns in USA and Canada reached extremely high levels of PM2.5 for 1-2 months. Just wondering about any sort of impact of these on kids.

QuartzNews2 karma

Hi there. I'm not an expert on this but I know that scientists just aren't sure. I found some resources that could have some answers:

http://www.capradio.org/articles/2018/11/20/can-short-term-exposure-to-wildfire-smoke-impact-long-term-health-experts-are-researching-answers/

https://www.apnews.com/320c9f5afb45620f0c88e8ff47e4b583

Ttgxyolo2 karma

What would your suggestions be to help this?

I ask because it’s very hard to enforce anything without an actual global police.

QuartzNews1 karma

Here's what I'll say: The burning of fossil fuels is a leading source of global warming and air and water pollution. A transition to 100% clean energy is the only real solution – but it's far from simple.

As The Guardian states, "it is the development conundrum of our era. Extremely poor people cannot lift themselves out of poverty without access to reliable energy. More than a billion people live without power today, denying them opportunities as wide-ranging as running a business, providing light for their children to study, or even cooking meals with ease. Ending poverty requires confronting climate change, which affects every nation and every person. The populations least able to adapt – those that are the most poor and vulnerable – will be hardest hit, rolling back decades of development work."

So, burning fossil fuels contributes to countries' development and helps lift people out of poverty, but it also accelerates climate change, which worsens poverty and ultimately harms everyone. It's a vicious cycle with no clear answer.

The good news is that there are lots of things you can do, as an individual, to lessen your contributions to air pollution and global warming more generally! Here are some tips: https://www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/reducepollution.html

b0bbyl1ght2 karma

What, if any, efforts have these countries made to help solve their air pollution problem?

QuartzNews5 karma

Hi! Forgive me in advance for repeating some of my answer to a similar question earlier today.

The government of Mongolia banned internal migration into Ulaanbaatar until 2020 to try to to limit the number of people contributing to the city's air pollution problem (More people means more coal-burning chimneys, more traffic jams, overcrowded schools, and electricity shortages). They've banned the use of unrefined coal in Ulaanbaatar starting in May 2019 and offered to subsidize electricity for poor households in ger districts at nights. They've also committed to a pollution-free Ulaanbaatar by 2020 in their Sustainable Vision. And they've worked with international partners like the World Bank and the UN to install air filters in hospitals and schools. So they're definitely aware of the problem and doing some things to respond to it https://montsame.mn/en/read/132984

But a lot of people I spoke with in Mongolia said they're not doing enough. They compared it to putting a bandaid on a bullet wound, and said that the only thing that will really help is getting rid of all coal burning in the city and transitioning to clean energy. But like I wrote in my piece, that would mean "connecting all ger district houses to a central heating system; improving the city’s electric capacity; subsidizing electricity so it’s cheap enough that people can transition from coal; insulating and upgrading buildings to make them more sustainable; and moving all the coal power plants out of the city." And that's expensive and a logistical nightmare.

nuala-lala2 karma

How are your lungs?

QuartzNews5 karma

Thanks for checking, my lungs feel fine now.

I'm very conscious of how lucky I am that exposure to severe air pollution was a 5-day experience for me, as opposed to the daily lived reality of hundreds of thousands of Ulaanbaatar residents.

callmenoona2 karma

I would love to know your opinion on Molekule. Do you think this and other air filters make a difference?

QuartzNews7 karma

Molukule

I wish I could help but I don't have any expertise on any particular brand of air purifiers. The US EPA has a guide to portable air cleaners that my help you: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-07/documents/guide_to_air_cleaners_in_the_home_2nd_edition.pdf

Omegaprimus2 karma

did you wear any type of equipment to combat the toxic air while you were there?

QuartzNews3 karma

Yes I did! I wore a N99 face mask.

HristiHomeboy1 karma

Have you visited Macedonia? (If you have) How is the pollution here compared to cities in India/Mongolia? (Some of our cities are in the top most polluted in Europe and probably further)

QuartzNews2 karma

I have never been to Macedonia! And in fact I didn't know it was disproportionately polluted compared to the rest of Europe, but I went searching around when you said that and found a great story about it: https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/ancient-valleys-macedonia-pall-air-pollution

rnvdr1 karma

Were you offered money to not report how bad pollution was at that place? or to just not say the entire truth in any way?

QuartzNews2 karma

No I was not. As a journalist, I would never take money (or editorial guidance) from anyone other than my employer.

zabuma1 karma

Have you ever encountered any special interest groups that have tried to stop or sway your findings?

QuartzNews2 karma

No I haven't!

ItzDaWorm1 karma

Hi Annabelle. This is my first time hearing of you, but as someone who cares about the quality of life for all humans living on this planet I applaud your work.

The other day I was curious about how my local air quality (Atlanta, GA) compares to other states so I took a look at this website: https://airnow.gov. I noticed this area north of El Paso where it appears AQI for PM10 exceeds 300 on daily basis. From studying the map it seems this is the worst air quality in the entire US for parts of the day.

I was curious if this is erroneous data, an effect of daily traffic in the area, or if something else is going on near the El Paso area.

Thank you for your time if you respond to this.

QuartzNews2 karma

Thank you very much. I didn't previously know anything about air pollution in El Paso, but I did a little bit of research and found that the American Lung Association ranks El Paso as one of the country's worst cities in the US for air quality, so I don't think that data is wrong. You might also be interested to know that this summer, a coalition of NGOs and other groups announced they were suing the EPA "to develop new pollution control measures for El Paso County."

https://eu.elpasotimes.com/story/opinion/2018/08/03/epa-failing-el-paso-air-pollution-so-were-suing-column/894845002/

king_jellyfish_prawn1 karma

What gives Ulaanbaatar its extremely high pollution levels given it’s rather small population in the global scheme?

QuartzNews2 karma

Air pollution is so high in Ulaanbaatar because of the large number of people who burn unrefined coal and other pollutants in their homes to cook and stay warm in the winter. There are some other unique factors that also play a role, including the topography and climate of the city. I list them in my piece: https://qz.com/1557026/mongolias-air-pollution-crisis-is-the-future-of-our-cities/

anythingistrump1 karma

What do you order when you have to eat Taco Bell? Otherwise, what is your favorite fast food/fast casual type restaurant?

QuartzNews2 karma

I'm a fan of Shake Shack crinkle-cut fries

PandorianDroniad1 karma

Is particulate matter more of an immediate health concern than greenhouse gas emissions are? Or are their effects equally visible at this point in time? Thanks for trying to raise awareness. EDIT:- punctuation.

QuartzNews2 karma

What's important to understand is that, generally speaking, air pollution and climate change are related. The main driver of climate change is fossil fuel combustion, which is also a major contributor to air pollution. But that doesn't mean that climate change always causes air pollution. For example, in Ulaanbaatar, air pollution is man-made. Climate change plays a role because it contributes to longer and more severe winters (known as dzuds), but it is not the main driver of the toxic air in Ulaanbaatar. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/mar/10/climate-change-mongolia-destroying-pastures-nomadic-herders-dzud

divinelyshpongled1 karma

I’m about to have a baby in Shanghai and the idea of my newborn breathing this air causes me nightmares. What would your advice me to limit the harm or would you avoid having it here at all costs? Thanks so much

QuartzNews1 karma

I'm sorry that you are dealing with this problem. In terms of ambient air pollution, I would recommend being as aware as possible of the air quality before you go outside (https://aqicn.org/city/shanghai/), wearing a mask when you go outside, and limiting your newborn's time outside as much as possible. In terms of indoor air pollution, I would recommend keeping your apartment/house really clean, installing a high-quality air filtration system and regularly changing the filters, and keeping your windows closed when the air is bad outside. If you are interested in making more long-term infrastructural changes, try this resource: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/best-practices-indoor-air-quality-when-remodeling-your-home

moede1 karma

can you recommend a cheap solution for testing air quality?

QuartzNews1 karma

In many cases, portable and inexpensive pollution readers are not very good. But there are some new models that seem to work, though keep in mind they're not as accurate as the larger, more detailed machines that local or federal governments use. For example, they only measure fine particles in one point and are better at measuring the hourly or daily increases/decreases in pollution, as opposed to giving you an exact number. Here are two good articles on this:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/16/business/experimenting-at-home-with-air-quality-monitors.html

https://www.wired.com/story/cheap-portable-sensors-are-democratizing-air-quality-data/

ohijenelle1 karma

Can you speak to the effects of short-term pollution from wildfires? I live in Northern California where we have wildfires late in the summer/early fall, and I fear for the effects on my young child. This last summer was particularly awful with the Camp Fire, where the air quality index neared 300 in my area for several days.

QuartzNews2 karma

I'm so sorry you and your child are experiencing this. Unfortunately, I'm not an expert on this but I know that scientists just aren't sure about the effects of short-term exposure to wildfire smoke particles. I found some resources that could help:

http://www.capradio.org/articles/2018/11/20/can-short-term-exposure-to-wildfire-smoke-impact-long-term-health-experts-are-researching-answers/

https://www.apnews.com/320c9f5afb45620f0c88e8ff47e4b583

CucumberDwi1 karma

Are the people over there doing anything to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the air?

QuartzNews1 karma

Yes. The government of Mongolia banned internal migration into Ulaanbaatar until 2020 to try to to limit the number of people contributing to the city's air pollution problem (More people means more coal-burning chimneys, more traffic jams, overcrowded schools, and electricity shortages). They've banned the use of unrefined coal in Ulaanbaatar starting in May 2019 and offered to subsidize electricity for poor households in ger districts at nights. They've also committed to a pollution-free Ulaanbaatar by 2020 in their Sustainable Vision. And they've worked with international partners like the World Bank and the UN to install air filters in hospitals and schools. But experts say it's not enough, and there are problems with implementation/quality control for some of these initiatives. https://montsame.mn/en/read/132984

maplecat1 karma

Have you experienced any side effects from going there? What precautions did you take?

QuartzNews1 karma

I haven't experienced any side effects since I've come back, though while I was there, as I explained in another thread, I had trouble sleeping and concentrating and I was constantly short of breath. There wasn't much I could do other than wear a mask at all times, limit my time outside, and keep all the windows closed.

eldarandia1 karma

Which parts of the world would you recommend for a reasonable balance between industrialisation and atmospheric pollution?

Rural Canada / Australia?

QuartzNews1 karma

It's a sad reality that more than 90% of the world’s 1.8 billion children are exposed to toxic air pollutants. So, there's not many places you can go today that don't have a problem with air pollution (though obviously the severity of the problem varies wildly). It's up to you to decide how much air pollution you're prepared to live with and what measures you feel you can reasonably take to protect yourself against its effects and reduce your contributions to the problem.

Swertrich1 karma

What were some side effects you experienced?

QuartzNews1 karma

Mostly shortness of breath and coughing, but I also noticed I wasn't sleeping well, even taking the jet lag into account (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170522080830.htm) and had trouble concentrating (there's a link between air pollution and cognitive function/the brain more generally, but it's a complicated one: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/09/news-air-quality-brain-cognitive-function/)

Lolcat_of_the_forest1 karma

Are there any effects of air pollution that wouldn't be immediately obvious?

QuartzNews2 karma

Yes! In fact most of the effects of air pollution aren't immediately obvious (except for things like coughing, shortness of breath, respiratory infections etc). The worst effects are more long-term, including higher risks of lung cancer, acute lower respiratory infection, stroke, ischaemic heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Not to mention the risks to pregnant women, which include "reduced fetal growth, preterm birth, low birth weight, impaired cognitive intra-uterine development, impaired cognitive development, and even spontaneous abortion," according to UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org/mongolia/Mongolia_air_pollution_crisis_ENG.pdf

Goetre1 karma

How did you tolerate it?

When I was much younger I visited Manchester near (few miles ish) some factories to visit family. I was there for a week and felt continuously ill with each breath making it feel worse.

QuartzNews4 karma

I'm sorry you and your family had that experience.

It was definitely hard for me! But I kept reminding myself there are people for whom this air is a daily reality.

lost7141 karma

Given your understanding of pollution and the current societal view to its production, what action that is within reach would have the largest impact in global pollution reduction?

lost7142 karma

follow up question: on a person by person basis what would you say would be the biggest impact change one could do?

QuartzNews2 karma

Thanks for this question, and for clarifying what you meant. I asked my colleague on the science team for backup on this, and he said the answer depends on where you are. In Ulaanbaatar, for example, the answer would be to find a non-coal heating solution. But in most other places, it would be to drive an electric car.

edgycommunist4201 karma

Are you afraid that you may have been affected by the pollution in Ulaanbaatar, or have you not been there long enough for anything to happen?

QuartzNews3 karma

Scientists just don't know how to answer this question: Is it worse to be exposed to more pollution over a shorter period of time, or less pollution all the time?

I honestly don't know. It's an interesting question I asked several scientists I spoke with (and they didn't have an answer): Is it worse to be exposed to more pollution over a shorter period of time, or less pollution all the time? What I know for sure is that spending 5 days in a really polluted place is nothing compared to being exposed to toxic levels of air pollution every single day of your life, as people are in many cities around the world.

aleexthegreeat1 karma

How many children actually have asthma or diseases that can be attributed to pollution? What’s the likelihood of a child developing these ailments?

QuartzNews2 karma

So I actually tried to figure this out when I was writing my story, and came up short because it's very difficult to prove conclusively that a child's asthma is due to air pollution only. There could be lots of other factors influencing that, including a parent smoking in the home, or a family history of asthma for example.

What I can tell you is that the prevalence of childhood asthma in Ulaanbaatar is overall higher than in many countries. This particular study uses an adapted questionnaire from the ISAAc study (The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood) and found that it's about 20.9%, "higher than that in the world and Asia–Pacific countries reported by ISAAC." https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1323893015001586

aleexthegreeat1 karma

Thank you for the pdf! I downloaded a copy for myself and read through it.

Are there any undergoing measures in effect to reduce risk? I noticed the advocation of prohibition of smoking present in the conclusion.

What other measures are taken to ensure a better QOL for these children?

QuartzNews1 karma

There are a few measures, including extending school winter breaks in cases of severe air pollution, giving kids air pollution masks, installing air filters in schools, and improving the quality of the pediatric care available to them in health clinics. But none of these are nearly enough to make a meaningful difference.

Trips_On_BananaPeels1 karma

If you had full control of the government, what actions would you take to combat this issue?

QuartzNews2 karma

The million-dollar question! I don't pretend I have all the answers, and I know that it's much easier to say "transition to clean energy" than it is to actually do it. But if I could do whatever I wanted with no concern for funds etc., I would first upgrade all homes ger distrcts, hook them up to the central heating system, and improve the electricity capacity, and then I would ban all coal use and coal power plants in the city and start developing other areas of the country to relieve some of the pressures on Ulaanbaatar.

Nocturnalshadow1 karma

What is the impact of air pollution on kids?

Ttgxyolo2 karma

She answered earlier, in summary it affects the respiratory system.

QuartzNews2 karma

Hi! I'm copying my earlier response so it's easier to find, and if you want to learn more, I recommend this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcS3ovdsgNI&feature=youtu.be

The biggest thing to know is that fine pollution particles like PM 10 or PM 2.5 are toxic to the human body, and especially for little kids. Being exposed to high levels of these particles on a daily basis increases kids' risk of asthma and recurring or chronic respiratory conditions, impairs lung function, and has also been linked to lower cognitive development, meaning that it can actually get in the way of the normal development of children's brains.

prozepper0 karma

Why bother ? You don't need to travel to it to report on it

QuartzNews2 karma

I disagree! I couldn't have reported the story if I hadn't been there, experienced it for myself, and spoken to people who live through it every day. Or rather, I could have, but it would have been a much less interesting and weaker story.

morphogenes-1 karma

Do you feel you're overexaggerating the air problems? With PM25 of 150, you don't cough when you're outside, you don't struggle to breathe. The particles are invisible and painless. You have to get up to far greater PM25 levels to feel these sorts of problems, and even then it is the other pollutants.

"Mongolia's air pollution crisis is the future of our cities"? Really? It's not our future because we don't burn coal in stoves to keep warm. The last time I was in the States, I thought my pollution control meter was broken because it was registering zero. Western countries don't really have pollution problems because we outsourced all our manufacturing in order to put our working class out of a job. We took the pollution from where we could keep an eye on it to where it is unregulated. Corporations made a mint.

This whole thing smells like poverty tourism combined with white savior syndrome.

QuartzNews7 karma

I'm going to contradict your assessment of those particles as being "invisible and painless." As I describe in a thread above and in my story, they're most definitely harmful to the human body, and especially in the concentrations you find in Ulaanbaatar during the winter (I cite a UNICEF air pollution reading on January 30, 2018 at 5am of 3,320 µg/m³, which is crazy high).

You're correct to note (as I do in my piece) the disparities in pollution levels between developed and developing nations. But pollution is a problem everywhere: more than 90% of the world’s 1.8 billion children are exposed to toxic air pollutants. For example in London, where I work, researchers estimate that air pollution kills about 9,500 people every year (other estimates have found higher numbers). And "our cities" doesn't mean only developed cities. The point of my story was to say that Ulaanbaatar is a good case study for what happens when cities rely on fossil fuels and don't do enough to prevent the toxification of shared resources like air or water.

And while I'm really glad that your air pollution monitor read 0 when you were in the US, you should know that's not the case everywhere: https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/city-rankings/most-polluted-cities.html

42phoenix-3 karma

Why do journalists have to hype up the "on kids" aspect to get more sensational? Air pollution impacts every human.

QuartzNews17 karma

Hi! It's true that air pollution impacts everyone. But it has a really disproportionate impact on kids, and especially between birth and five, the period known as "early childhood development," during which their bodies and brains are developing at a very fast pace. You can learn more about it here: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/five-numbers-to-remember-about-early-childhood-development/