Feature: CAOA Calls For Clean Air Bill To Combat Air Pollution And Protect Public Health In Ghana

Clean Air One Atmosphere (CAOA), a Ghanaian non-profit organization using citizen science to revolutionize air quality monitoring and data communication with lower-capital cost air sensors across Africa, has called for the urgent proposition, development, and implementation of a “Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment Act (dubbed Clean Air Bill)” to combat the growing menace of air pollution in Ghana.

In a statement addressed to the Parliament of Ghana, Dr. collins Gameli Hodoli, the founder of CAOA, emphasized the critical need for sound environmental and social policies grounded in current scientific trends and robust evidence.

He highlighted the severe health impacts and economic losses resulting from environmental pollution, particularly air pollution, which often goes unnoticed due to its invisibility. “Thousands of Ghanaians are suffering from the health-damaging effects of environmental pollution, particularly air pollution, but none of this fazes us. Why? Because as Beth Gardiner rightly put it, invisibility is a strange feature of this crisis”, the statement read.

The Health and Economic Toll of Air Pollution

Dr. Hodoli underscored the devastating effects of air pollution, citing scientific studies that revealed significant risks to public health, the economy, and the environment including agriculture.

Air pollution is responsible for nearly 24,000 premature deaths annually in Ghana (HEI) and contributed to an estimated $1.6 billion in economic losses in 2019 alone (Fisher et al., 2021). The statement also highlighted the unaccounted rise in respiratory infections and exacerbation of asthma attacks due to limited site-specific air pollution and health surveillance data.

“It is noteworthy that exposure to air pollution in childhood is responsible for mental health issues in adulthood, specifically a decline in cognitive ability, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, psychosis, suicide risk, and schizophrenia,” he noted.

Figure 1: Number of premature deaths attributable to exposure to air pollution in Ghana for 2019 adapted from HEI

In 2019, about 1.1 million premature deaths in Africa were linked to air pollution, with more than half attributed to household air pollution (HEI, 2022). Vulnerable groups, including the elderly, women, and children, are particularly at risk due to their exposure to health-damaging atmospheric emissions from poor energy sources like wood, kerosene, and charcoal.

Comprehensive Air Quality Monitoring

The statement flagged the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limited efforts for air quality monitoring. Currently, the EPA’s air quality monitoring campaign is limited to Accra, with only 16 stations serving a population of 2.6 million.

This insufficient coverage fails to provide real-time data necessary for public health protection through meaningful communication of the reported data to help the public make informed-decisions about air pollution and generate the needed evidence for location specific air pollution mitigation strategies due to limited expertise and resources since the Ghana EPA is no more under government subvention.

“The approach is not suitable to help understand air quality levels in near-real-time to support public health protection and mitigation strategies due to the complexity and variability of air pollution in urban centers,” the statement argued.

It called for the expansion of the EPA’s air quality monitoring campaign to cover all regions in Ghana, emphasizing the need for routine monitoring to track air pollution and its health impacts accurately.

Legislative and Policy Recommendations

To address the air pollution crisis, Dr. Hodoli proposed several key components for the “Right to Clean Air Bill,” including:

– Adopting current WHO Air Quality Guidelines and translating them into mandatory air quality legal requirements.

– Openly and meaningfully communicating air quality data to the public.

– Deploying regulatory air quality monitors in all regional capitals by 2030.

– Augmenting air quality monitoring using lower-cost environmental sensing tools.

– Establishing dedicated air quality monitoring teams in regional EPA offices.

– Implementing air quality monitors and warning systems at basic schools to support student activities.

– Reducing traffic congestion around educational facilities and promoting environmentally friendly public transport systems.

– Reviewing the school curriculum to integrate sustainability and environmental pollution science.

– Introducing polluter-pay policies and banning waste burning.

– Reducing the cost of LPG and renewable energy to promote clean cooking and heating.

A Call to Action

The statement called on the government and parliament to act swiftly in implementing these measures to protect public health and ensure a sustainable environment for future generations.

“We do not get to select what we breathe; we are all exposed to the same air at any given moment and location. Therefore, implementing a bill that gives us all the right to clean air is the cheapest and prudent environmental law we can give Ghanaians to improve public health and environmental sustainability,” the statement concluded.

The proposed “Right to Clean Air Bill” aims to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost to the silent killer – air pollution. Dr. Hodoli urged the Speaker of Parliament to compliment the statement with a motion before the house to propose, develop, and implement this crucial legislation.

“We are all exposed to the same air at any given moment and location; therefore, implementing a bill that gives us all the right to clean air is the cheapest and prudent environmental law we can give Ghanaians to improve public health and environmental sustainability,” the advocate passionately argued.

This call to action was supported by Hon Francis-Xavier Kojo Sosu who led three of his colleagues Hons Dr Godfred Seidu Jasaw and Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa from the Ghana Parliament to propose a bill on “Climate Change Bill 2023”

In a related development, Dr. Hodoli in an interview with The Chronicle pointed out the severe consequences of open burning, a common practice in many Ghanaian communities. “Burning waste is not only harmful but also illegal,” he said. “Yet, unlike countries such as the US and UK, Ghana lacks a concrete document like the Clean Air Act to specify regulations and accountability for air pollution.”

He stressed the importance of establishing clear guidelines on responsibilities and communication regarding air quality data. “Citizens need to know who to report to and what actions to expect when laws are violated,” he explained. This clarity, he believes, is crucial for effective public health protection.

The current state of air quality monitoring in Ghana is inadequate. According to Dr. Hodoli, the country has only one air quality station that reports data onto an internet-based platform at the University of Ghana, Accra which also serves as a regional representative site.

The EPA however lacks the infrastructure to meaningfully communicate this data to the wider public unlike the regulatory grade station at the US Embassy in Ghana that reports data to an open source online platform Airnow.

Also, the existing 16 reference rely on outdated manual data collection methods making it challenging for public engagement and meaningful air quality data visualization. These stations are also run based on the availability of consumables. “Data collection happens every six days, providing an incomplete picture of air pollution levels,” he noted.

The lack of real-time, continuous monitoring is a significant gap. Dr. Hodoli highlighted that data from existing stations is not accessible to the public, making it difficult for citizens to be aware of the air quality they are breathing.

Efforts by researchers and nonprofits to deploy low-cost sensors are promising and best practices needs to be followed to ensure that the data from these devices meet the recommended standards for policy development, implementation and tracking tied to air pollution control.

The proposed “Clean Air Bill” aims to address these issues and improve public health, especially for vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. Dr. Hodoli outlined how the bill would integrate clean energy initiatives, reduce reliance on charcoal, and promote better housing infrastructure. “Reliable public transportation could reduce vehicular emissions and traffic congestion,” he added.

However, implementing such a bill comes with its challenges. Key stakeholders, including MPs and government committees, need to be actively involved in drafting and supporting the legislation. Financial and logistical support from both local and international organizations is also crucial. Industries should be mandated to install and maintain air quality monitors and share the data openly.

Dr. Hodoli advocates for a polluter pay policy to ensure that industries contribute to air quality monitoring and mitigation strategies. “Taxes and levies should fund sustainability education and environmental pollution mitigation initiatives in schools, for example at Accra High School, Hon Dr Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings collaborated with local players to implement a clean cooking initiative after a careful review of the findings of scientific evidence of the impacts of the use of charcoal for cooking on air quality at and around kitchen areas” he suggested.

The need for a comprehensive Clean Air Bill, separate from general climate change legislation, is essential for focused and effective action on air pollution. “Air pollution and climate change are intrinsically linked, but we need a concrete document to address air pollution specifically,” Dr. Hodoli asserted.

As Ghana moves forward, the hope is that the Clean Air Bill will be passed and implemented, bringing significant improvements to the lives of ordinary citizens and ensuring a healthier, cleaner environment for future generations.


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