Air Pollution in Rural Areas can be just as Dangerous as it is in Cities

Air quality is frequently regarded as a major issue in major cities. Heavy traffic and huge companies are viewed as the primary causes of air pollution, thus air pollution shouldn’t be an issue in the countryside…right? Wrong. Rural air quality is a major concern, much like urban and suburban air quality. As you can see, air quality in rural areas is influenced by a variety of factors, and the repercussions of failing to control air pollution can be equally severe. However, by having a thorough understanding, you can improve your health and well-being.

According to new research, chemical reactivity, seasonality, and the dispersion of airborne particulate matter are important indicators to consider when assessing the impact of air pollution on human health. Environmental laws now focus on the mass of pollutant particles, but researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are advocating for regulatory efforts to be refocused on more regional and health-relevant aspects.

New research of air quality in the Midwestern United States discovered that measuring the bulk concentration of PM2.5 particles (those with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less) does not correspond well with current methods for determining particle toxicity. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that PM2.5 exposure may be just as dangerous in rural areas as it is in urban ones, proving a prevalent misperception that air pollution is more poisonous in urban areas than in rural areas, according to the researchers.

The majority of air pollution research have moved their attention from particle mass to a feature termed cellular oxidative potential. Cellular oxidative potential explains the particles’ ability to generate reactive, oxygen-based compounds that can cause a variety of health problems in lung tissue cells.

Vishal Verma

The study’s findings, conducted by Vishal Verma, a civil and environmental engineering professor, have been published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. “The EPA definition of PM2.5 takes into account particle diameter and mass, which are easily measured,” Verma explained. “However, not all of the particles that make up PM2.5 contribute equally to health.”

When inhaled, PM2.5 can become entrenched in lung tissue, posing a health concern, according to the study. Despite the fact that chemically reactive components of these particles are known to be harmful, a recent study by Verma’s group demonstrates that the exact link between PM2.5 mass and toxicity remains unknown.

“The majority of air pollution research have moved their attention from particle mass to a feature termed cellular oxidative potential,” Verma explained. “Cellular oxidative potential explains the particles’ ability to generate reactive, oxygen-based compounds that can cause a variety of health problems in lung tissue cells.”

Rural air pollution may be as hazardous as urban, study finds

Wildfire smoke is one of the most common sources to air pollution in rural regions, at least in certain portions of the country. Dry conditions, particularly in the western United States, increase the likelihood of wildfire smoke. When wildfires burn miles away, smoke can travel to your neighborhood, causing a variety of health issues.

Aside from dust, pollen, and smoke, there are chemicals and other air pollutants in the air that can cause issues, even for those living in rural areas. While many of these chemicals are connected with urban living, it is possible to have difficulties with these chemicals even if you live in the country.

To further understand the impact of oxidative potential, the researchers collected PM2.5 samples on a weekly basis over the summer and fall of 2018 and the winter and spring of 2019. They selected three urban locations: Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis, as well as a rural area in Bondville, Illinois, and a roadside spot near to an interstate highway in Champaign, Illinois.

Verma’s team examined the sample composition, oxidative potential, and mass using an automated analytical technique established in a prior job. The researchers discovered that all locations had similar levels of oxidative potential – but that there was a poor link between oxidative potential and mass. According to the study, this shows that certain of the lighter particles in PM2.5 cause more tissue damage than others.

“Our rural samples had less mass than those from urban environments, but the oxidative potential was the same,” Verma explained. “Additionally, the oxidative potential of the rural samples was higher in the summer than in the winter, implying that agricultural activity during the summer can produce PM2.5 particles that are equally as harmful as those from urban environments.”

The researchers anticipate that this study would draw attention to the newly discovered dangers connected with PM2.5 in rural locations. “The present methods for measuring PM2.5 oxidative potential are time-consuming and labor-intensive, and we believe that our new methodology, together with this study findings, will make testing for oxidative potential more appealing to environmental regulators and policymakers,” Verma said.