Environmental justice, the pathway to democratising good air quality

Environmental justice on air quality issues is crucial to ensure that all communities, especially those in areas of high traffic and industrial activity, along with those with the most vulnerable and marginalised populations, receive equitable protection from the harmful effects of air pollution.

The quality of the air we breathe is directly related to our health and well-being. Industries and traffic emit harmful gases such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3), as well as harmful fine particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) that can penetrate deep into the lungs and from there into the bloodstream, causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and even death.

These emissions can vary significantly from day to day and between neighbouring streets, altering air quality and thus public health. Accurate, real-time monitoring of air quality is therefore essential.

Air surveillance using environmental monitoring sensors link glossary is a powerful tool for determining the pollutants present in the air, their proportion and sources of emission. With the data they provide, informed decisions can be made to mitigate the effects of their toxic presence.

Air pollution does not differentiate socio-economic or ethnic conditions, but it is nevertheless the most disadvantaged communities that suffer most from the negative consequences of breathing poor air quality.

Polluted air not only affects human health, increasing the risk of disease and reducing quality of life. It also alters natural habitats, damages biodiversity, as well as contributing to wider environmental problems such as climate change.

Using environmental justice ensures that all people, regardless of their socio-economic status or geographic location, are guaranteed the right to enjoy a healthy environment and do not suffer disproportionately from the negative effects of pollution.

Similarly, appealing to environmental justice promotes equity, community participation, accountability and the implementation of inclusive and just policies that promote greater well-being for both people and the planet.

What is environmental justice

Environmental justice is a legal tool that seeks to address and redress inequalities in the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens among different social groups. This approach focuses on ensuring that all people, regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic factors, have equal access to a healthy and safe environment.

Environmental justice as applied to air quality refers to equity in exposure to the risks of breathing air laden with air pollutants and the right to have the benefits of clean air, as well as inclusive participation in decision-making related to air quality management.

What is environmental justice for?

Litigation against environmental alterations that harm people’s living conditions is increasing day by day. Through such social claims, the recognition that any person or community has the right to enjoy a healthy environment is being obtained. Such legal measures seek to hold governments and corporate inaction accountable for making basic human rights such as breathing clean air impossible.

Environmental justice is based on the guiding principle that all people have the right to protection from environmental harm and risks. Each country and region has its own laws and regulations to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for its citizens. It is conceived as “a social claim, a new paradigm that gives certainty and balance about the distribution of positive or negative environmental implications in a given territory”. (Ramírez S., et al., 2015).

Globally, there are many environmental justice cases calling for better air quality. From historic cases such as the multi-million dollar settlement that condemned the oil company Chevron, in Richmond (California), for the adverse effects of the air on public health caused by its refinery. Even the implementation of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in London, following repeated demands by the environmental organisation ClientEarth to the UK government for failing to comply with EU air quality regulations.

In Mexico City, the residents’ organisation, supported by non-governmental organisations, succeeded in 2019 in getting the city government to implement more effective policies to monitor air quality, as well as activating citizen participation to ensure cleaner air for its residents.

Functions of environmental justice

Environmental justice is of paramount importance for reasons ranging from social and economic aspects, to health and human rights to live in a safe, healthy and pollution-free environment.

It is a justice of paramount importance because of the essential functions it performs:

Equal protection

It is crucial to preventing discrimination on environmental grounds. Environmental justice seeks to prevent certain communities, especially low-income communities and ethnic minorities, from suffering a disproportionate burden of air pollution.

Equitable distribution of resources

Environmental justice ensures that resources to monitor, regulate and improve air quality are distributed fairly, ensuring that all areas, not just the most affluent, receive adequate attention to maintain healthy air quality.

Community participation and empowerment

Facilitating access to information provides all communities with clear and understandable information on air quality and its health impacts in a transparent manner.

Participation in decision-making

Environmental justice facilitates the active participation of affected communities in decision-making related to air quality, ensuring that their voices and concerns are heard and considered.

Accountability for improving air quality

Environmental justice holds companies and governments accountable for the damage caused by air pollution, promoting legal action and stricter regulations to prevent future damage.

Government transparency

The use of environmental justice promotes transparency in government actions related to air quality regulation and enforcement of existing environmental regulations.

Health and community well-being

Appealing to environmental justice in air quality issues helps reduce health problems and inequities. It addresses health disparities caused by air pollution by working to reduce the incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in the communities most affected.

Improving quality of life

By implementing policies and measures that improve air quality, environmental justice contributes to improving the quality of life for people living in polluted areas.

Inclusive policy development

Its application commits to the development of public policies based on equity. These are policies that take into account the needs and circumstances of the most vulnerable communities, ensuring that measures to improve air quality benefit everyone equally and are based on a fair environmental impact assessment.

Strengthening the legal and regulatory framework

With the help of environmental justice, in addition to complying with environmental laws, stricter regulations to control and reduce pollutant emissions can be enacted. It can also be used to promote preventive approaches to tackling pollution.

Climate justice

Environmental justice plays an important policy role in addressing climate change by preventing disruptions to air quality. Its use aims to ensure that strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also consider impacts on air quality and vulnerable communities.

In short, environmental justice in air quality issues serves to ensure that all people, regardless of their socio-economic background or geographic location, have the right to a healthy environment and do not suffer disproportionately from the negative effects of pollution.

What to do before resorting to environmental justice?

To live in healthier and more sustainable environments, we must work to improve air quality through the demand for more renewable energy, the promotion of public transport and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles.

At the same time, there are a number of tools available to monitor the quality of the air we breathe based on the composition and proportion of air pollutants detected.

Among these tools are air quality sensors. Currently, there are a multitude of technologies that measure environmental quality by detecting different air pollutants, but with widely varying reliability. Depending on the specific types of pollutants to be measured, we can find electrochemical sensors, analysers, gravimetric sensors, non-dispersive infrared sensors, microelectromechanical systems, etc.

Kunak offers the best performing technologies for each type of pollutant and, thanks to its patented smart cartridge technology, allows cartridges to be easily replaced within minutes of reaching the end of their useful life, drastically reducing the loss of air quality data. In addition, there is no need to send the device back to the factory for calibration and/or periodic maintenance.

Unlike other systems, Kunak’s smart cartridges incorporate a proprietary algorithm designed by Kunak engineers that is able to mitigate the effects of environmental conditions. In this way, Kunak’s sensors are able to provide measurements comparable to those offered by reference instruments.

It is only by making informed decisions based on accurate, reliable and quality data that we can implement the appropriate measures to reduce environmental pollution and, ultimately, to protect people’s health.

Who can use environmental justice to protect air quality?

By empowering communities with the necessary technology and data on air quality, we can all play an active role in protecting the environment and our health. The democratisation of air quality data is an essential step towards environmental justice. Universal access to accurate, real-time data enables communities and governments to take informed action, fighting to make clean air a right for all.

“Environmental justice is helping to uncover the interplay between environmental threats, health conditions and vulnerable groups.” (Prieto-Flores, M.E., et al., 2016).

Government regulations and their enforcement are the guarantee for citizens that their fundamental right to breathe clean air is not violated. If governments neglect their duties or fail to adequately enforce their air quality compliance obligations against third parties, it is time to appeal to environmental justice.

Environmental justice is a legal action accessible to individuals and communities that has proven to be effective in demanding that governments comply with laws and regulations created expressly to achieve a healthy environment, because doing so upholds the basic right to life.