Pollution, seasonal wind causing air toxicity in Senegal, creating lung illnesses

The air in the hot, dry country carries many unhealthy particles that are affecting the health of its citizens, but industry is to blame, health officials say

Supporters of president Macky Sall gather at Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium during his final rally on February 22, 2019 in Dakar, Senegal. (Photo by Xaume Olleros/Getty Images)

The West African nation of Senegal is waging war with toxic air that seems to be exacerbating asthma and other illnesses among its people, the BBC is reporting.

The country, which largely has a hot, dry climate is registering levels at seven times and three times, respectively of two World Health Organization measures for acceptable levels of particulate matter, according to the BBC. Such particles, which often come from vehicle fumes, can enter the lungs and even register so tiny that they can penetrate the bloodstream.

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Evidence is beginning to show that particulate matter can hinder the growth of lungs in children, and researchers are investigating possible links to dementia, the BBC reports.

About 7 million people a year can be expected to die from exposure to particulate matter, according to the news organization.

The number of patients at the respiratory unit of Albert Royer Children’s Hospital in Dakar, the capital, has been growing, Idrissa Ba, a physician there for 15 years, told the BBC. Ba says he believes this is because of the particles in Senegal’s air.

The BBC cites two reasons for the poor air quality in Senegal. One is natural — a wind known as the harmattan that blows dust in from the Sahara Desert during its dry season. Another is pollution from industry and cars, a situation made worse by the fact that many of the vehicles in Senegal are old and tend to pour out more fumes.

There are other issues too, according to Ba.

“It’s true that we have a problem with car pollution, but here people also burn their rubbish outside in the open,” the doctor said.

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Even worse, fuel imported to Senegal contains much more sulphur than fuel used in the United States or in Europe, according to the BBC.

“Today, the diesel standards in Senegal are still at 5,000 parts per million as compared to Europe at 10 parts per million,” Jane Akumu, spokeswoman for the Air Quality and Mobility Unit of UN Environment, told the news organization.

Ba says he is advising parents to be vigilant for their children’s health.

“We know that many young children who have asthma, infections, allergies, if we don’t treat them early, their pulmonary capacity can be reduced by 10 percent,” Ba said.

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