The World Health Organization has recently identified air pollution as the world’s single biggest environmental health risk - attributing it to one in every eight deaths.
The air we breathe gives us life; removing any harmful contaminates ensures we are breathing in air that supports a healthy life for us and for our families.
We tend to picture air pollution as black clouds of poisonous fumes dumping from factory smokestacks or the gray haze and dense smog that fill the air in many of our major cities. While this is certainly true, other harmful forms of air pollution are invisible, odorless, and can even be found in your own home.
Regardless of the type of air pollution, it causes damaging short and long term effects on the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
What's In The Air Your Breathe?The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors six types of air pollutants found inside and outside and are known to cause serious health issues:
- Carbon Monoxide
- Nitrogen Oxides
- Particulate Matter, including PM2.5 and PM10
- Sulfur Oxides
Sources of Air Pollution:
Air pollution can be found almost everywhere, including in major cities, in your workplace, and even in your home. While all air pollution is harmful, it affects each person differently. The amount of time exposed to the pollution and the concentration of pollution in the air often determines how much damage it causes.
Outdoor Air PollutionMost air pollution is manmade and often the result of burning fossil fuels as a way of producing fuel for cars, trains, planes and creating electricity and heat for industrial factories and manufacturing plants.
Other sources contributing to outside air pollution include second-hand cigarette smoke, fertilizers, and industrial cleaning products.
Natural sources that contribute to air pollution include forest fires and ash from volcanoes.
Indoor Air Pollution
We usually think of air pollution as an “outdoor” problem, but indoor air pollution also contributes the serious health issues caused by air pollution.
Sources of indoor air pollution include:
- Gases (carbon monoxide, radon, etc.)
- Fuel sources, such as kerosene and wood
- Household cleaning products and chemicals
- Construction materials (asbestos, formaldehyde , lead , etc.)
- Tobacco smoke
- Mold and pollen
Negative Health Effects of Air Pollution
The conditions created by exposure to air pollution are different for each individual. Healthy adults exposed to a low dose of pollution for a short period of time may not notice any short-term health effects; while those with existing respiratory or cardiovascular issues can experience severe reactions from exposure to very low concentrations of pollutants.
While pregnant women, children, and the elderly tend to be more susceptible to harmful air pollution, research now demonstrates that exposure to air pollution has negative health consequences for everyone.
Aggravated Breathing Problems
Considering we breathe air pollution directly into our lungs, it should be no surprise that air pollution causes serious harm to the respiratory system. Air pollution is directly related to inflammation and narrowing of the airways that results in new cases of asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and chronic bronchitis . In fact, more Americans than ever (15 million adults and over five million children in the United States) now suffer from asthma.
In fact, more Americans than ever (15 million adults and over five million children in the United States) now suffer from asthma.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
With over 600,000 deaths per year, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. Traditional treatment of heart disease has focused on lifestyle choices including exercise, eating a healthy diet, and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, an increasing amount of research demonstrates that air pollution, which is cannot be considered a lifestyle choice, has a significant impact on the cardiovascular system.
Specific evidence of air pollution’s negative effect on cardiovascular disease includes:
Increases in the concentration of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides correlate with higher rates of heart-related hospital admissions.
Areas with higher concentrations of nitrogen oxide have rates of death four times greater than cities with lower concentration.
Air Pollution Increases the Risk of Infertility
The damage caused by air pollution is not only limited to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems; recent studies have found that exposure to high levels of air pollution even has negative implications on the reproductive system.
Researchers at Boston University’s School of Medicine reported that women exposed to excess traffic exhaust fumes are more likely to experience fertility issues than women living further away from major areas of traffic fumes (like highways).
Specifically, the study found women who live in close proximity to a major roadway were 21% more likely to report they struggle with conception after having at least one successful pregnancy, a condition known as secondary conception, than women living further away from major roadways.
Air Pollution and Mental Health of Children
For the first time in history, a major study has linked increases in the mental illness of children with low level exposure to air pollution. Specifically, the research found that even very small increases in exposure to air pollution are associated with increases in the number of psychiatric problems observed in children.
The researchers conclude that reducing air pollution concentration, particularly from traffic exhaust will likely reduce the number of psychiatric conditions experienced by children and teens.
What Can You Do To Combat These Health Risks?
In many areas, concentrations of air pollutants are found at levels consistently linked to increased risk of chronic health issues. While government and industry continue to work toward policies that reduce emissions on a global scale, there are many things you can do to reduce exposure in your own home - ensuring you and your family are breathing in fresh, clean, healthy air; these steps include:
- Plant plants!
- Frequently vacuum your home
- Refrain from smoking
- Use an air quality tracker to be more aware of your environment (our Wynd device has been named one of TIME'S Best Invention of 2016 ).
- Clean your air conditioner and humidifier often
- Use an air purifier
- Get outside, Get out of the city, and go on hikes! Breathe the fresh mountain air in places where there is no traffic, smokestacks, or smog!
- How Do You Combat Air Pollution?
We'd love to hear from you what you do to breathe clean air. Leave us a comment below or drop us a fb comment!