The conference “RespiraMi” addresses the crucial issue of air pollution

The health of human beings and the balance of the ecosystems surrounding them are indissolubly linked: our well-being depends not only on the availability of food and water but also on the air we breathe. When we carry out daily activities (work, school, and so on) in polluted environments, both our body and mind are negatively impacted: therefore, protecting the environment means not only safeguarding our planet, but also our health.

In this context, it is essential to understand the concept of fine particulate matter, namely the set of microscopic solid and liquid particles suspended in the air we breathe. These particles, divided into PM10, PM2.5, and PM1 based on their diameter, can penetrate the lungs and cause significant damage to human health.

As a matter of fact, air pollution represents the main environmental threat to health in Europe and contributes significantly to the onset of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, and lung tumors. Moreover, environmental pollution is also associated with respiratory infections and asthma and contributes to making us more vulnerable to other “stress factors,” such as pathogens. Vulnerability to environmental pollution is amplified by many factors, such as age and the presence of pre-existing health conditions or specific behaviors. This inevitably means that children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with illnesses are the ones most affected by the effects of pollution.

According to the World Health Organization, 24% of all global diseases are attributable to exposure to environmental factors, while 33% of childhood diseases under the age of 5 are caused by such factors. 

In Italy, the Ministry of Health has revealed alarming figures, with 30,000 annual deaths caused by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and a reduction of 10 months in the average life expectancy of Italians due to air pollution. 

The impact of environmental pollution is even more evident in cities, where traffic and concentrations of air pollutants reach extreme levels. In highly urbanized areas, high concentrations of fine dust and nitrogen dioxide highlight a critical situation: in 2022, 29 Italian cities out of 95 exceeded daily PM10 limits. In particular, Turin, Milan, Modena, Asti, Padua, and Venice recorded more than double the allowed exceedances.

Among the measures to adopt in order to reduce the burden of environmentally related diseases are positive behaviors such as promoting safe water storage methods in homes and hygiene measures, using cleaner and safer fuels, improving building safety, judicious use of toxic substances at home and in the workplace, better water resource management, in addition to concepts of sustainability, energy efficiency, consumption reduction, reuse, and recycling, which are always valid.

To address this issue, the International Seminar “RespiraMi,” organized by Fondazione Menarini and the Environmental Research Group (ERG) of Imperial College London, represents an important moment of meeting and exchange among international experts to present the results of research on air pollution carried out in recent years and update knowledge on achievements.

The conference, titled “Recent Advances on Air Pollution and Health,” will take place in Milan on February 29 and March 1 and will see Francesco Forastiere, Sergio A. Harari, Michal Krzyzanowski, and Pier Mannuccio Mannucci as chairmen. The first day of the seminar will focus on the relationships between air pollution and health, exploring the scientific connections between pollution and cardiovascular, respiratory, cancer, neurological, and mental diseases. The second day will address specific research on air pollution in Italy, with a focus on the Po Valley, and will discuss actions taken by the European Union and the United Kingdom to reduce health risks resulting from pollution.

In its fifth edition, the International Seminar “RespiraMi” is an opportunity to respond to the challenging problem of air pollution with dialogue and the active search for concrete solutions, in the hope of ensuring a better future where the air we breathe is no longer a threat to our health.