Air pollution in China Greg Baker/Getty Images

Lo que China puede enseñarle a Estados Unidos sobre el aire limpio

NORTHAMPTON – Cada año, en todo el mundo más de cuatro millones de personas mueren en forma prematura por respirar aire impuro. Sólo en China, la cantidad de muertes atribuibles a la contaminación del aire supera un millón al año; una cifra que tal vez parezca previsible, ya que los medios nos muestran todo el tiempo imágenes de Beijing, Shanghai y otras ciudades chinas envueltas en denso, fuliginoso esmog. Pero aunque se hable mucho menos de él, el aire de Estados Unidos también mata.

Según un estudio publicado en 2013 por el MIT, se calcula que la mala calidad del aire provoca unas 200 000 muertes prematuras al año en Estados Unidos, es decir, más que los accidentes de tránsito y la diabetes (otros estudios ponen un número menor, más cerca de 100 000). Pero mientras China le está haciendo frente al problema de la contaminación, Estados Unidos ha comenzado a revertir medidas de protección de la calidad del aire, en nombre del crecimiento económico: una estrategia errada que tendrá un efecto devastador sobre la salud de las personas.

Desde que en 1993 Harvard publicó un famoso estudio de seis ciudades estadounidenses, la comunidad científica y los funcionarios del área de salud pública conocen el efecto mortal de la materia particulada fina, también llamada PM 2,5 (partículas de diámetro inferior a 2,5 micrones presentes en el aire). Al inhalar PM 2,5, una mezcla de polvo, suciedad, sustancias químicas orgánicas y metales en forma de microscópicos cuerpos sólidos y líquidos pulverizados penetra profundamente en los pulmones, pudiendo llegar incluso al torrente sanguíneo. Investigaciones realizadas los últimos veinte años vincularon la PM 2,5 con una variedad de trastornos sanitarios, entre ellos asma, bronquitis aguda, cáncer de pulmón, infarto y enfermedades cardiorrespiratorias.

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