A brief review of air pollution in Ghana, facts, information, causes, effects, recent research findings and how cities around the world are tackling poor air quality
Last updated: 19 February 2020 4:35 PM EST
• PM2.5 pollution levels in Ghana, which is associated with heart disease, asthma, stroke and lung cancer, breach limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO)
• The annual mean of PM2.5 in four Accra metros in 2018 was 79.87 μg/m3, 16 times above the WHO 2021 updated guideline
• More than 28,000 people die from air pollution in Ghana every year – WHO
• 73% of people in Ghana use solid fuel such as wood and charcoal for cooking – HEI & IHME
• Ghana lacks real-time or near real-time, sufficient, and publicly accessible air quality monitoring networks
• Ghana does some air quality monitoring alright (6-days monitoring regime by gravimetric method), but it's limited to only 15 locations, all in the Greater Accra Region (none for other regions). Data from these air quality monitors are not publicly accessible.
• Ghana's EPA does not issue air quality alerts to the public when air pollution situations are expected to adversely impact health, not even for vulnerable groups — including the elderly, children and individuals suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart disease
• Air pollution kills more people in Ghana than malaria and AIDS combined
• Ghana has a mortality rate for air pollution of 203.8 for every 100,000 people - WHO
• Ghana has annual mean concentrations of 31.1 μg/m3 of PM2.5 pollutants, compared with the WHO annual recommended guideline of 5 μg/m3 (2021 update)
• Accra's PM2.5 annual exposure in 2016 was more than 10 times (55 μg/m3) above the WHO recommended safe levels. The PM10 annual concentrations in Accra in 2015 also breached the WHO safe limits by as much as 11 times (172 μg/m3)
Air Pollution in Ghana
People in Ghana are more likely to die from air pollution than those in some other comparable countries like Kenya (more than twice as likely) and Rwanda (0.6), and about 28 times as likely to die from air pollution as those in Finland and New Zealand, the WHO most recent global air pollution data has revealed.1
Billions of people worldwide are exposed to dangerous levels of toxic air, but the pollution levels in developing countries such as Ghana and Nigeria are far worse.
According to the figures from the WHO, about 203 out of every 100,000 deaths in Ghana are air pollution-related.
Air pollution is associated with a higher risk of death from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. In many cases, air pollution acts to exacerbate pre-existing conditions, including asthma and heart disease.
People in developing countries such as Ghana and Uganda have a higher risk of premature death from air pollution due to a number of factors, including poor quality health services.
Ghana’s mortality rate for air pollution in 2012 was 80 for every 100,000 people.2
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Ghana’s urban ambient air pollution levels contain more than three times as many of the deadly PM2.5 as the WHO guidelines for outdoor air quality (31.1 micrograms per cubic meter [μg/m3] compared with the WHO recommended annual guideline of 5 μg/m3), the WHO data shows.
PM2.5s are ultra-fine particles of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, which can penetrate and lodge deep inside the cardiovascular system.
The WHO data did not include measurements for other air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone.
Ghana's dirty air is characterized by trends in population growth in urban areas.
Air pollution is linked to more than 28,000 premature deaths in Ghana every year, with people living in the capital Accra and other urban areas worst impacted.3
PM2.5 annual exposure levels in Accra in 2016 was more than 10 times (55 μg/m3, compared with the WHO recommended annual guideline of 5 μg/m3) above the safe limits recommended by the WHO.
The PM10 exposure levels in Accra was far worse in 2015 - 172 μg/m3 compared with the WHO annual guideline of 15 μg/m3.
Major sources of air pollution (PM2.5 and PM10) in Ghana include resuspended dust from unpaved roads, tailpipe exhaust emission from aging buses and trucks, open burning of residential trash, and soot from biomass-fuelled cookstoves.
Air Quality Monitoring in Ghana
Ghana lacks real-time or near real-time air quality monitoring networks.
Accra and other cities such as Kumasi, Takoradi, and Koforidua suffer from a serious lack of air pollution exposure information.
Ghana does some air quality monitoring alright, but this is limited to only 15 locations ( 15 outdoor non real-time air quality monitors and 10 low-cost sensors), all in the Greater Accra Region. None for the rest of the country's 15 regions.
Ghana only monitors particulate matter - no carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide or any gaseous pollutant.
To make it worse, Ghana's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not issue air quality alerts for Ghana residents.
Publicly available air quality data and air pollution exposure information on Ghana usually comes from international organizations such as the World Health Organization, Health Effects Institute (HEI) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME).
Air pollution is linked to about 24% of all global adult deaths from heart disease, 29% from lung cancer, 25% from stroke, and 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the WHO estimates show.6
Deaths From Air Pollution in Ghana
More than 15,000 deaths in Ghana in 2017 were attributable to air pollution, updated figures from the HEI, the IHME, University of Texas at Austin, and the University of British Columbia, have revealed.
According to the recent update, close to 10,000 deaths were due to household air pollution (HAP), where 73% of the population use solid fuels such as charcoal and wood to cook food in open fires and leaky stoves12. See the trend below.
NUMBER OF DEATHS ATTRIBUTABLE TO AIR POLLUTION IN GHANA (1990-2017)
The above plots show Ghana’s rising air pollution related-deaths between 1990 and 2017.
NUMBER OF DEATHS ATTRIBUTABLE TO HOUSEHOLD AIR POLLUTION IN GHANA FROM SOLID FUELS (1990-2017)
The above graph plots show Ghana's indoor air pollution related-deaths between 1990 and 2017. While it has been on the decline since 2010, deaths from HAP in Ghana remains one of the highest in the West Africa sub-region.
See also: Sodom and Gomorrah - Ghana
Air Pollution in West Africa (PM2.5 Annual Mean Levels)
Exposure to PM2.5 varies across countries in West Africa. Below are PM2.5 annual exposure levels for some countries in the sub-region.
Constructed by ATCMASK.COM with data from the WHO
What Are Some Recent Research Findings On Air Pollution?
• A new study published in the journal Environmental Health has linked living near busy roads or highways to dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.
• Exposure to ultrafine particles even for a few hours can cause a nonfatal heart attack, new study suggests.
• According to a new study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, early life stress and elevated prenatal exposure to harmful air pollutants may lead to mental health problems in children.
• A new study published in the journal Epidemiology has linked air pollution particles to brain cancer for the first time.
• Aspirin may lessen the adverse effects of short-term air pollution exposure on lung function, a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has found.
• Researchers from Colorado State University have found a link between dirty air and aggressive behavior in some parts of the US. The team found a strong correlation between violent crime rates and high particulate and ozone pollution levels. The study was published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management and made available online on September 30, 2019.
• A new study published in the journal Nature Communications on 17 September 2019 has found air pollution particles (black carbons) on the foetal side of human placentas. The researchers found more nonoparticles in the placentas of mothers who lived near main road than those who lived farther away. This shows that even unborn babies are exposed to some of the deadly particles found in air pollution.
Some sources of black carbons include cars and trucks, biomass-fueled cook stoves and bush fires.
• A study published in August 20, 2019 in the PLOS Biology suggests a link between exposure to environmental pollution and an increase in the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in both the US and Denmark - including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.
For instance, in the US, the study found a 29% increase in the rate of bipolar disorder in the region with worst air quality.
However, John Ioannidis of Stanford University is concerned that a long series of potential biases may invalidate the observed link in this study, and called for more studies to examine this association.
• According to a study (July 2019) by scientists from the University of Technology Sydney published in the American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, even low level of air pollution exposure can have an adverse effects on the lungs.
• According to a study by researchers from Imperial College London and the Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions Carnegie Mellon University, poor air quality in the United States may be linked with early deaths and reduced life expectancy.
• A growing body of evidence links exposure to air pollution to pregnancy and birth-related problems, including preterm and low birth weight. More than 2.7 million premature births across 183 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, could be linked to air pollution, a study has found.7
• A another study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility by researchers at the University of Utah Health reveals link between air pollution and increased risk for miscarriage (about 16% risk of miscarriage after short-term exposure to elevated air pollution levels for women living along the Wasatch Front).
• A study of more than 300,000 people by the European Lung Foundation has found that air pollution accelerates aging of the lungs and increases the risk of developing chronic lung diseases. See the study in the European Respiratory Journal here.
• A study presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in New Orleans, LA, USA, in March 2019, links PM2.5 pollution with reduced sperms in mice.
• A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows that particulate pollution (PM2.5 and PM10) takes away 125,000 years of healthy life from children in Europe.
• Air pollution could be causing twice the number of extra deaths (8.8 millions) each year in Europe than previously thought, according to a newly published study in the European Heart Journal.
• Another study (2019) in the Environmental Health Perspectives has found a link between exposure to PM2.5 pollution before and after birth, and poor working memory and execution attention in 2,221 children from Barcelona, Spain.
• More than 20 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India, according to a recent data released by IQAir Visual and Greenpeace. Gurugram, a city just outside New Delhi, had the worst air pollution in the world in 2018.
The study also cite Kano, the capital of Kano State, one of Nigeria’s northern states, as the most polluted city in Africa.
Only four cities in Africa were included in the report - Kano and Port Harcourt in Nigeria, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and Kampala in Uganda. This is because most African countries do not measure the air they breathe or the little they collect are not reliable.
Air pollution killed nearly a million people in Africa in 2016.10
You can download the 2018 World Air Quality Report by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace, here.
• A study published in the Proceedings of National Academic of Sciences (PNAS) linked air pollution to a profound reduction in intelligence, showing that exposure to chronic poor air quality may have serious effects on people's cognitive ability, and can increase people's chances for degenerative diseases like dementia and alzheimer's.
• US black and Hispanic minorities bear a disproportionate (56% and 63% excess exposure respectively) burden from air pollution (PM2.5) caused mainly by non-Hispanic white Americans (17% less air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption), according to another recent study published in the PNAS.
• Air pollution increases ER visits for breathing problems, according to the largest U.S study of air pollution and respiratory emergency room visits of patients of all ages. The study was recently published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
The study looked at the levels of ozone and particulate matter in more than 850 counties in the week prior to an ER visit for a breathing problem. This included nearly 40 million ER visits for breathing problems from the counties ( about 45% of U.S. population).
The study found strong association between ozone, particulate pollution and respiratory ER visits among children and adults under age 65. The study also found that increased levels of particulate matter resulted in increased ER visits for asthma, acute respiratory infections and pneumonia.
• According to the WHO's new report (October 2018) on Air pollution and children health, more than 90% of the world's children under the age of 15 years are exposed to PM2.5 levels above the agency's recommended safe limits. More than half a million children died in 2016 from air pollution (mainly from acute lower respiratory infections), the report estimates.
The new the WHO report confirms the findings of some of the studies above: pregnant women who are exposed to polluted air are likely to experience pregnancy and birth related-problems including preterm births.
“Air Pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected.” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the WHO.
Poor people, mostly women, children and the elderly are the most at risk from air pollution. Women accounted for more than half of all air pollution-related deaths in Ghana in 2012.11
Source: the WHO
Air pollution is linked to more than 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year, with poorer countries in Asia and Africa worst affected.13
Many developing countries, including countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria are not measuring the quality of the air they breathe.
Information on outdoor PM2.5 was only available in 8 of 47 countries in Africa. It appears only Senegal (in West Africa) has submitted the most recent air quality data (2017) to the WHO's 2018 database on PM2.5 and PM10.14
Lowest pollution levels are found in high-income countries, particularly those in the Americas, Europe, and part of the Western Pacific region.
Air pollution remains a critical risk factor for premature death in Europe. Poor air quality was linked to about 391,000 premature deaths in 28 EU Member States in 2015, European Environmental Agency October 2018 report has revealed.
How Are Cities Around The World Tackling Air Pollution?
Many developing cities are racing to limit air pollution levels in urban areas. When the Chinese Government decided to control air pollution levels during the 2008 Olympic Games, researchers in a study of Beijing children before, during and after the Games observed significant lower pollution levels during the period of the Games. This shows that interventions by city authorities could bring significant relief for urban dwellers.
Improved cooking stoves (Patsari) are showing reduction in respiratory symptoms in rural Mexico, another study found.
Developed cities are enacting bans and taxes on polluting vehicles entering city centers. The UK plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The city of London in 2018 introduced a daily special tax (Toxicity (T) Charge) of £10, on top of other charges, for the most polluting vehicles entering the city.
German cities have already started implementing limits on polluting cars.
"Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO. “It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”
See also: Videos and Photos of Agbogbloshie, Ghana
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1. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved October, 2018) ↩
2. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/255336/9789241565486-eng.pdf?sequence=1 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
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6. http://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412016305992 (Retrieved October, 2018) ↩
8. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510810 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
9. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0263-3 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
10. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/ (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
11. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/250141/9789241511353-eng.pdf?sequence=1 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
12. http://www.stateofglobalair.org/sites/default/files/soga_2019_report.pdf (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
13. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
14. http://www.who.int/airpollution/data/cities/en/ (Retrieved October, 2018)↩