Book Club

The Chair read for you: Notre air est-il respirable ? de L.Loumé et F.Marano [🇫🇷]

Published on 25 March 2019

In France, the attention paid to the phenomenon of pollution is growing. It is systematically reported in the media during pollution peaks. The French are adopting this concept, which is now part of their daily lives, by reducing the use of cars when advised to do so, by buying specific skin care products – in order to avoid the effects of fine particles -, by taking an increasing interest in the consumption of products from organic farming – which ensure the non-use of certain chemicals – and by vehemently demanding a “cleaner” environment for future generations.

Nevertheless, the knowledge required to deal with a phenomenon as complex as it is rich and exciting is far from what the population has at its disposal. Thus, Lise Loumé and Francelyne Marano (1) accompany us in analyzing, in a very simple and didactic way, each of the issues related to the phenomenon of pollution, and provide us with leads on the practices to adopt in order to reduce aggregate pollution levels and individual risks to health and quality of life. It should be noted that the authors are mainly based on the most recent scientific discoveries and mobilize examples of practices and experiences from around the world.

The book begins with an analysis of the data that questions, for example, the certainty of living in an increasingly polluted France or the certainty that any form of pollution is the direct result of human activities. Then the first chapter takes a historical perspective and reminds us of one of the first pollution episodes on earth: the “great oxidation” that led to the development of the stratospheric ozone layer and life as we know it today.

The authors also develop an analysis focusing on the contribution of different human activities to pollution. The book illustrates some examples of pollutants whose levels in the air have decreased in recent decades and the main causes of such transformation: these are mainly changes in the production or consumption of certain types of products and the implementation of regulations.

For its part, the second chapter focuses on the link between the multiplicity of existing pollutants and the health conditions of individuals. It also focuses on the description of the seven categories of pollutants, the economic sectors most affected (industry, transport, agriculture and housing) by each and the associated risks according to the characteristics of individuals.

Differentiated effects according to living conditions are also mentioned and social inequalities are highlighted to explain the inequality in terms of exposure to pollutants. The authors give a detailed list of examples of solutions identified in the different continents that combine economic standards and instruments (taxes, subsidies) with changes in air pollution. In France, the issue focuses mainly on housing locations and access to public transport, which can also be a significant source of fine particles emissions.

Loumé and Marano also categorize two types of pollution: outdoor and indoor. The authors affirm the existence of cross effects between pollutants of each type and harmful consequences on the health of individuals, animals, plants and buildings. External pollution from economic activities remains a societal concern and requires urgent action. Indoor pollution, related to the use of cleaning products, scented candles and cigarette smoke can be avoided with simple actions and good ventilation practices.

The last chapter highlights unusual ideas for reducing levels of air pollutants, long-term global objectives and the means to achieve them. The authors thus answer the most common questions raised by the phenomenon with recent scientific results and empirical evidence.

The book concludes by listing some false solutions to pollution such as the use of air purifiers, incense or depolluting plants which are only very effective in controlled experimental environments.

Through very widely covered topics, the authors move away from an alarmist posture but underline the importance of the continuity of efforts to reduce pollution. They also refer to other natural phenomena that generate chemicals that are harmful to life and are not directly caused by humans. This book also illustrates the close relationship of dependence between the lifestyles, the functioning of the economic system, the innovative potential of different societies and the types of pollutants that have emerged at specific points in history. It opens the door to interesting questions and provides the necessary words and key concepts that allow the interested reader to move on to more specialized documents.

Nathaly Cruz, Research Fellow “Energy renovation, buildings, social networks”

(1) Lise Loumé: Health journalist, web editor of Sciences et Avenir magazine. Francelyne Marano: Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology and Toxicology at the University of Paris-Diderot and member of the High Council of Public Health

LoumĂ© L. et Marano F., 2018. Notre air est-il respirable ? Le vrai du faux sur la pollution intĂ©rieure et extĂ©rieure. Editions QuaeCollection : Science et quotidien, 166p.