The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

Asthma and pollution hot spots in Malta

Sunday, 20 May 2018, 08:38 Last update: about 3 years ago

Hubris is a weakness to which politicians are particularly susceptible. This is mostly apparent in the tendency of politicians to pontificate from above to lesser (non-politician) mortals on all manner of subjects as though they possess infinite expertise.

As example of this was the mid-section of Dr Alfred Sant’s article entitled “Funds for Europe (10 May) devoted to ‘Air Pollution’. 

It is, of course, easy (and dangerous) to make off-hand comments as those based on anecdote. Dr Sant’s article seems to have been based on  “ stories one frequently comes across “ and an out-dated 1960s medical  report which  relates to a time when there was virtually no street-level pollution in Malta.

A lot has happened since the 1960s and this includes a meteoric increase in cars and traffic pollution on our roads. In the meantime, scientific studies have consistently shown an association between the prevalence of asthma and road-traffic pollution. It is now also accepted that people living in close proximity to a congested road are at increased risk of asthma.

This particularly applies to Malta. Our children are mostly growing up in densely urbanised areas where they are exposed to traffic emissions. The future consequences of this have yet to be seen when today’s children grow up.

Recent surveys conducted in Malta – like the European Community Respiratory Health survey in 2001 – have shown a high general level of consumption of asthma medication. Hospital admission rates from traffic-polluted areas as Fgura, Cottonera Gzira Msida areas are two to three times higher than expected when compared to non-port areas. Another survey led to the conclusion that the prevalence of asthma or asthma-like symptoms in Fgura (which is heavily congested with traffic) was among the highest ever recorded internationally.

Therefore to blithely say “No matter how good or bad our air quality is now, I would still guess that we have not yet gotten to the stage where asthma causes so many deaths.

Yes, this is a guess … and an exceedingly wild and reckless guess at that. It also epitomises the state of denial of successive administrations that Malta faces a serious traffic pollution problem. Yet our Transport Authority has seen it fit to allocate €700 million to improving our roads to encourage yet more traffic and pollution in our streets.

The scientific evidence for harm from traffic pollution was reviewed in Part IV in a think-tank (TPPI) report entitled “Towards a low carbon society: the nation’s health, energy security and fossil fuels” which was launched in June 2008. Copies of this report had been distributed to all government departments … but governments are not interested in reports written by Maltese peasants, they prefer to commission expensive reports from “foreign experts” the contents of which also tend to be ignored.


G. G. Debono 


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