We address whether framing air pollution as a human rights issue would both motivate and direct actions more quickly and efficiently than what exists at present. Air pollution has long been an acknowledged public health threat and viewed as an inevitable consequence of energy use and industrial production. Its consequences and costs are merely an externality for polluters, whether individuals or corporations.
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The legal basis for action can be derived from the right to health and related rights. While a healthful environment seems fundamental to the right to health, no enforceable legal document guaranteesthis right. Since then, a specific right to a healthy environment has not gained much traction for complicated reasons, ranging from political to legal.
Nonetheless, human rights advocates have successfully shown that,given the interdependence of rights, a range of rights can be invoked because their realization is dependent on a safe and healthy environment. Although the ability to enjoy all human rights may be affected might be affected by environmental degradation, including air pollution, the right to health provides an important entry point, particularly when coupled with rights to life; adequate food, water, and housing; non-discrimination; participation ; and self-determination.
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Any call for human rights protections that cover air pollutionby claiming a right to a healthy environment will be challenged by scientific understanding of risks posed by air pollution, and by lawyers concerned with the limits of what human rights law can offer. We propose that taking the right to health as a start, as done by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, implies similar protections for adults, with the potential, in particular, for engagement and mitigation of the effects of pollution on vulnerable populations.
However, even the comparatively low levels of air pollution in high-income countries can still be linked to adverse health effects. Thus, a rights-based strategy can call for air quality to be as healthy as possible, but not risk-free, an unattainable goal.
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At best, the target risk would need to be based on principles used to guide risk management: as low as reasonably achievable ALARA 9 and the precautionary principle, 10 protecting against the possibility of risk in the face of uncertainty. Climate changeposes particular challenges when viewed with a rights lens.
A rights-based approach to climate change offers a framework for problem-solving that is based in international human rights law, includes relevant methodologies to identify and address stakeholder interests, ensures the equity and participation of affected populations, and creates accountability mechanisms.
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We conclude that rights-based approaches merit deeper consideration for advancing air pollution control globally at a time when air quality is notably deteriorating in many parts of the world. They provide a universal rationale and approach for action, even in the face of widely varying legal and regulatory schemes. SG receivedpartial support for this workfrom the Merck Company Foundation.
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The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resulting proof before it is published in its final citable form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain. JMS and SG contributed equally to the conception, development, writing, editing, and final preparation of this manuscript. Declaration of interests. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the Merck Company Foundation.
National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Lancet Respir Med. Author manuscript; available in PMC Feb 1. Jonathan M. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Reprint requests: Jonathan M. Copyright notice. This results in breathing problems, from asthma to emphysema to lung cancer. There is now overwhelming evidence that air pollution results in serious harm not only to the lungs, but also to the heart.
Here it increases the risk of heart attacks as arteries narrow and muscles weaken. One reason for the wide-ranging damage from air pollution is that very small particles can penetrate the lungs and be carried around the body. Strokes, dementia and reduced intelligence are all conditions affecting the brain that have been linked to air pollution. The main reason for the far-reaching damage from air pollution is systemic inflammation, said Schraufnagel.
In evolutionary terms, the body has evolved to defend itself against infections, not pollution. Among the many other organs affected is the liver. Research highlighted in the review also links air pollution to numerous cancers, including in the bladder and the gut, where an increase in irritable bowel syndrome has also been found. Even skin and bones are affected, with skin ageing, hives and brittle bones associated with toxic air.
Perhaps the most disturbing impact of toxic air is the damage to reproduction and children. Fertility is reduced and miscarriages increased by exposure to air pollution. The unborn are also affected, with a recent study finding pollutants in the placentas that nourish foetuses.
Air pollution is also strongly linked to low birthweights for babies, which has lifelong consequences. Exposure to dirty air leads to stunted lungs , increases in childhood obesity , leukemia and mental health problems. Schraufnagel is concerned that many doctors are unaware of this wide-ranging damage associated with air pollution.
Researchers cannot experiment on people and so by necessity many studies show significant associations between poor air quality and disease, but cannot prove cause and effect. For example, government action to slash pollution before the Beijing Olympics in led to a rise in birth weights in the city.
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Most air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, heat homes and power transport. People will say that in London or other places it was worse years ago, but now we are talking about an incredible number of people exposed for a long time. Exclusive : Comprehensive analysis finds harm from head to toe, including dementia, heart and lung disease, fertility problems and reduced intelligence Damian Carrington Environment editor Fri 17 May Chronic laryngitis Asthma Lung cancer Heart disease.
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