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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.

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.

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

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.

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 !