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Air pollution is destroying our health in the city of Mongolia

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

With its vast territory, beautiful nature, unique landscape, clear sky, healthy soil, and semi-nomadic population, Mongolians seem not affected by air pollution, but the capital Ulaanbaatar is home to half of the 3.4 million population is one of the most polluted capitals in the world.

Air pollution in Ulaanbaatar city is caused by the fact that the population of the ger district neighborhood, uses coal-burning stoves during the winter from October to March to warm their homes in the cold winter season. Fuel costs are a significant burden on the household economy with air pollution concentrations highest from dusk to midnight and at dawn.

In the 21st century, in Mongolia, at least for now, the raw coal is still important to surviving the brutal winters. The geographical location of the city is in a valley surrounded by mountains, and residential areas scattered at the foot of the surrounding mountains are also another factor. More than 60% of these residential areas are occupied by 1-2 story houses built by the residents themselves. 6 percent comes from power plants, and 20 percent from vehicles and transportation. 10 percent from factories and others.

In addition, last 30 years herders from the countryside migrated to the city expanding ger district in the suburb due to the dzud-a harsh winters that made their life harder killing a lot of live stocks.

As environmental and economic changes have made the old nomadic way of life more vulnerable, the government has failed to plan for the mass migration to the capital of rural families who are no longer able to eke out living tending livestock on the high, windswept steppe.

This horrible-smelling sulfur gas or sulfur dioxide combustion produces high amounts of pollutants to human health since these particles are so small that, once inhaled, they can travel deep into the human system, potentially causing a range of short- and long-term health effects.

Polluting the environment is silently killing many people especially children from the day are conceived. Pregnant women’s exposure to air pollution can affect the growing baby’s lungs and respiratory system causing preterm birth and spontaneous abortion. Pneumonia is now the second leading cause of under-five child mortality in the country. Children living in a highly polluted district of central Ulaanbaatar were found to have 40% lower lung function than children in the countryside. Air pollution is also linked with diseases that can be highly damaging for children, such as bronchitis and asthma, causing children to miss school and other important learning and development opportunities.

In the last years, incidents of respiratory disease in Ulaanbaatar is alarmingly increased including a q 2.7-fold increase in respiratory infections per 10,000 population. A 3.5-fold increase in fetal deaths has been documented between winter and summer.

Each year in Mongolia, an estimated 3,010 people die from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution and a further 1,123 people die from diseases attributable to outdoor air pollution.

Air pollution cuts short an estimated 7 million lives globally every year. Coal is one of the major causes of dirty air—and climate change. But the toll it takes is steep. It is a chemically colorless, invisible, poisonous gas with a pungent egg-like odor. Heavier than air in terms of specific gravity. Because it is heavier than air, it means that it is at the level of human breathing.

It is soluble in water and reacts with water to form sulfuric acid. SO2 + H2O → H2SO3

Sulfuric acid is a very strong acid with corrosive properties. This means that inhaled sulfur gas combines with water on the mucous membrane to form sulfuric acid. Plus, it's worse when the air is humid.

When the amount of sulfur gas in the air exceeds 28.6 mg/m3, the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract is damaged and starts to swell. Symptoms of coughing, sputum production, and shortness of breath appear, which can lead to asthma and bronchitis. Recently, the amount of sulfur gas in the air of UB is 200-250mg/m3.

Sulfur gas remains a black mark in the history of the world - the London fog of death.

In 1952, 12,000 people died in the "LONDON DEATH FOG" because of the accumulation of sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, and nitrogen dioxide in the air. In a stable, windless environment with high humidity, sulfurous gas with a specific gravity heavier than air reacts with air moisture or water to form sulfuric acid, killing thousands of people. Pm 2.5 pm10 plus high concentration sulfur gas problem!

Most of the people died from respiratory diseases (lack of oxygen, congestion, secondary infections) so they tried to think of it as an outbreak of influenza, but soon it became clear that the cause was sulfur gas in the air.

Before the government takes an action, the smoke in Ulaanbaatar is at times so thick that people and buildings are visible only in outline. Its smell is acrid and inescapable. The sooty air stings throats and wafts into the gleaming modern office buildings in the center of town and into the blocky, Soviet-style apartment towers that sprawl toward the mountains on the city’s edges. On bad days, handheld pollution monitors max out, as readings soar dozens of times beyond recommended limits. Levels of the tiniest and most dangerous airborne particles, known as PM-2.5, once hit 133 times the World Health Organization’s suggested maximum.

The Government of Mongolia took a series of actions to reduce air pollution; one was the ban on the consumption of raw coal beginning on 15 May 2019. Thus, improvement in particulate matter (PM) air quality was shortly studied by assessing the hourly data for the last six years, from January 2014 to February 2020. The analysis exhibited a major improvement in PM concentrations during the 2019–2020 winter in Ulaanbaatar. The average PM concentrations clearly exhibited a decreasing trend in November 2019–February 2020 compared to the previous five years. The maximum PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations were reduced to 46% and 55%, respectively, compared to the mean maximum values of the previous five years. The most prominent occurrence frequency of PM concentrations shifted to a lower concentration range. Although a PM pollution reduction was seen during the 2019–2020 winter, further air quality improvement can be obtained by taking a set of multiple actions with accurate planning management.

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