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How bad is air pollution in Istanbul

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    How bad is air pollution in Istanbul

    Between 2020 and 2022, there were hardly any cities in Türkiye that met the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality standards, as found by research conducted by the Turkish Thoracic Society on harmful airborne substances. The research also showed that, during those three years, the number of deaths due to air pollution surpassed those due to COVID-19.
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    It was noted by chest disease specialists Dr. Merve Erçelik and Dr. Sabri Serhan Olcay from the research team that an increase in heart attacks among young people is thought to be caused by air pollution rather than vaccinations.

    The 27th annual congress of the Turkish Thoracic Society (TTS), which took place in the TRNC with international participation, focused on "Be the Voice for Climate, Breathe for the World" as its main theme, highlighting air pollution and climate change as significant health threats.

    A significant presentation at the congress, which saw the participation of nearly 1,200 experts from Türkiye and globally, featured research data on air pollution in Türkiye from the TTS Environmental Issues and Lung Health Working Group.

    The importance of air pollution as a critical environmental and public health issue was underscored by Dr. Erçelik, from the Department of Chest Diseases at Süleyman Demirel University's Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Olcay, from the Department of Chest Diseases at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University's Faculty of Medicine.

    It was pointed out by Olcay that in 2022 alone, fine air pollutants were responsible for over 87,000 deaths in individuals over 30 years old, including 40,000 from cardiovascular diseases and 18,000 from respiratory diseases.

    Both experts highlighted that these impacts signify the continuation of the invisible pandemic.

    The hazards of airborne particulate matter (PM), including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and ozone, were discussed by Erçelik. Solid or aerosol particles suspended in the air constitute particulate matter, with PM 10 and PM 2.5 indicating their diameter in micrometers.

    While PM 10 affects the upper airways and lungs, PM 2.5 is capable of penetrating deeper lung tissues and entering the bloodstream. Using World Health Organization (WHO) criteria to evaluate air pollution data, it was emphasized by Erçelik that PM levels above 15 micrograms/cubic meter for PM 10 and 5 micrograms/cubic meter for PM 2.5 are harmful to public health.

    In their research, PM 2.5 measurements were detected in 51 provinces by Erçelik.

    "It was found by our measurements that in every province, PM values exceeded the WHO limits. PM 10 measurements surpassed the WHO limits in all provinces, including the three major cities," she stated, indicating that every province is breathing polluted air.

    Particularly high values were found in southeastern and eastern Anatolian provinces such as Muş, Iğdır, and Hakkari, partly attributed to their geographical structure.

    Using the WHO's AirQ Plus program, air pollution levels and the surface area of provinces were entered, and deaths of individuals over 30 years old were obtained from the statistical institution, as explained by Erçelik.

    "However, accidents, injuries, and other causes were not included in these data. We calculated the premature deaths due to PM 2.5 exposure from 2020-2022 in this way, excluding COVID-19 death data," she added.

    Despite excluding injuries, poisonings, and similar causes, the actual number of premature deaths due to PM 2.5 exposure was approximately 188,000, according to the research. In comparison, COVID-19 deaths from 2020 to December 2022 were around 100,000.

    "This data indicates that deaths due to PM (related to air pollution) are 1.8 times higher than those from COVID-19. Air pollution doesn't just affect our respiratory health; it primarily leads to cardiovascular diseases," she stressed.

    In a single year, around 40,000 cardiac deaths occurred. It was emphasized by Olcay that air pollution can cause many deadly health conditions, including heart disease and heart attacks.

    "In our study, we attempted to calculate the proportion of deaths among individuals aged 30 and above attributed to air pollution. In 2022 alone, there were 87,000 deaths due to air pollution, specifically from PM 2.5 exposure, calculated after excluding traffic accidents and other factors," he said.

    "Approximately 40,000 of these deaths were related to cardiac or cardiovascular diseases, while around 18,000 were related to respiratory diseases. Moreover, in 2022, we were still seeing the effects of COVID-19," he continued.

    "During this period, sudden heart attacks and related deaths observed in our environment were sometimes mistakenly attributed to the COVID-19 vaccine, but we believe that the main cause of the approximately 40,000 deaths due to heart diseases was actually air pollution," he added.

    "We call air pollution an invisible killer, but at times, it becomes visible. There are daily reporting apps that measure the air quality we breathe. By checking these before going outside, especially if you have a chronic illness, and wearing a mask if the air quality is low or avoiding going out during times of intense pollution, we can protect ourselves from its effects," he stressed.​