The ABCs of Air Pollution
Power lines and pollution in northern China. Photo by <a href=

Power lines and pollution in northern China. Photo by AdamCohn.

Man-made clouds of pollution, stretching from Beijing to New Delhi, are threatening the water and food security in Asia, according to a recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

These massive brown plumes of smog – known as atmospheric brown clouds or “ABCs” – consist of soot, sulfates and other aerosol components resulting from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass. Particles and pollutant gases trapped in the atmosphere, snow and ice both absorb and reflect the sun’s radiation, wreaking havoc on regional climate patterns. Countries like India and China are dimmer at the surface than they were before the industrial era. Glaciers and snow packs are retreating. And the atmosphere is heating up.

ABC “hotspots” include the following regions, according to UNEP:

  • East Asia
  • Indo-Gangetic Plain in South Asia
  • Southeast Asia
  • Southern Africa
  • the Amazon Basin

The UNEP says ABCs are likely to affect human health, leading to chronic respiratory problems, hospital admissions and deaths.  It suggests “the main emphasis of the toxicological studies should be on long-term inhalation exposure studies of diesel and motor vehicle exhaust.”Indeed, earlier this year, researchers found that truckers who are regularly exposed to diesel exhaust have a higher risk of cancer than other workers. (More on that study in a future blog post.)

To read more about the link between the transport sector and dirty smog, read these related posts on

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