Banksy's latest creation depicts a kid licking ash out of the air, and it calls attention to a global health crisis
- Celebrated street artist Banksy is out with a new work, called "Season's Greetings," which is located in Port Talbot, Wales.
- From one side of the building, the image appears to show a child licking snowflakes out of the air.
- But turn the corner, and you realise that the kid is actually ingesting ash from a dumpster fire.
- The image draws attention to a painful truth: More than 90% of the world's people are breathing polluted air, which can be deadly. The citizens of Port Talbot inhale some of the worst air in the UK.
Banksy is sending the world a chilling holiday card.
The reclusive street artist is taking credit for a spray-painted work that went up on a cinder-block garage in the Welsh town of Port Talbot earlier this week. Banksy released a video of the piece on Instagram captioned only "Season's greetings."
The image uses the corner of the garage to convey a striking message. When seen from just one side of the building, the art appears to show a child catching snowflakes on his tongue. But if you turn the corner, it becomes clear that the snow is actually ash from a dumpster fire - which the kid is shown ingesting.
Banksy's video (embedded below) zooms out from the artwork, revealing its particular geographical relevance: Port Talbot Steelworks, the largest steel plant in the UK, employs roughly 10% of the town's population.
Steel plants create ultra-fine pollution particles, which can lead to higher-than-usual concentrations of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide in the air. Studies show that people living near steel plants can suffer serious consequences, including higher resting heart rates and elevated blood pressures.
On Thursday, 55-year-old Gary Owen, a resident of the port town, told the BBC that he messaged Banksy in August to ask the artist to "do some art" for Port Talbot.
"The steel works is making lots of dust every day and the locals are sick of it," he wrote in a message to Banksy on Instagram.
That note never received a reply, but Owen thinks it's not a coincidence that four months later, the artist's first display in Wales popped up in his hometown.
Earlier this year, Port Talbot made news when the steel plant covered homes, pets, and children playing outdoors in a thick coat of black dust during a July heatwave, WalesOnline reported.
"If I open the windows I've got to accept my furniture and window sills will get thick black dust all over them," local mother Kayleigh Humphries told the news outlet.
She said her family suffers the long-term consequences of living close to Port Talbot Steelworks.
"Myself and my daughters suffer with respiratory issues. We recently went abroad, and I didn't even need inhalers or tablets," Humphries said. "But as soon as we get home we have chest infections straight away."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) maintains a worldwide air-quality database, and Port Talbot is near the top of the list of cities with the worst particulate-matter pollution in the UK.
But bad air isn't just a problem for Humphries, Owen, and other Port Talbot residents. Nine in 10 people around the world are breathing polluted air right now. Air pollution kills 4.2 million people every year, according to WHO.
Put another way, environmental contamination - chiefly from air pollution - accounts for more deaths than wars, obesity, smoking, and malnutrition.
Air pollution can also impact the way children's brains develop, lead to cognitive decline in older adults, and prompt asthma, lung disease, and allergies.
The majority of air pollution comes from fuel burning, which "accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution and for almost all pollution by oxides of sulphur and nitrogen," according to a 2017 Lancet report.
There are ways to mitigate pollution. In the US, aggregate emissions of six of the most common air pollutants have dropped 73% since 1970, the year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded, and the country's GDP has increased.
But there's still more work to do. In 2014, the EPA estimated that between 50,000 and 120,000 people in the US die prematurely because of bad air every year.
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