Air pollution is the collection of chemicals and particles in the air that are harmful to human, animal, and environmental health. Air pollution occurs both indoors and outdoors, and currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nine out of ten people breathe air that exceeds the WHO’s pollution guideline limits. We all know that air pollution is bad for health and for the planet, but how do we recognize the health risks of exposure to significant air pollution? In this article, we break down the different ways air pollution can impact human and environmental health and discuss different techniques to reduce exposure to air pollution.
Human Health Impacts
While air pollution can take the form of smog, smoke, or soot, many times air pollution is invisible to the naked eye. It is important to keep track of and regularly monitor your location’s air quality to understand the level of air pollution, as you cannot rely on the visibility of air pollution to determine the air quality. With significant, consistent exposure to air pollution comes a variety of negative health impacts. Factors that impact your levels of exposure to air pollution include proximity, the season, temperature, and weather patterns. The primary illnesses associated with significant air pollution exposure are respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and an increased possibility of developing cancer, but air pollution exposure can also lead to long-term damage in the nervous system, kidneys, brain, liver, and other organs.
One of the first areas of the human body to be affected by air pollution is the lungs. Air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter, can make its way into the lungs and lead to the onset of asthma or emphysema. These are both common impacts from continual air pollution exposure and can become chronic conditions that worsen over time. Other respiratory diseases associated with air pollution include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, and upper-respiratory tract infections.
Both acute and chronic exposure to air pollution is also associated with a decline in heart health. A decade-long study conducted at the University of Washington found a direct link between air pollution levels and atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the coronary artery. Another study found that long-term exposure to air pollution may prematurely age blood vessels and increase calcium buildup in the coronary artery. This calcium buildup restricts blood flow and may increase the possibility of experiencing a stroke or heart attack. Other people may experience a lowered level of lipoprotein, also known as ‘good’ cholesterol, which can elevate the risk of possible heart disease. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of experiencing hypertensive disorders from exposure to air pollution.
A study of over 57,000 women found that living near highways and major traffic areas may increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer. The toxic pollutants (primarily methylene chloride) from aerosol products and paint removers have also been associated with an increased chance of breast cancer. Leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and lung cancer have been associated with significant exposure to air pollution as well.
Air pollution, particularly acid rain, brings about many detrimental impacts to ecosystems and to the environment. Acid rain is a combination of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particles and is a man-made air pollutant. Acid rain falls onto the ground, contaminating soil and water supply and damaging crops. Animals and plants can be severely injured or killed from chronic air pollution and acid rain exposure. Air pollution in the form of greenhouse gases also accelerates global warming, which refers to the rising air and water temperatures that lead to an increase in natural disasters, severe weather events, and climate change in general.
Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Air Pollution
The good news is that there are ways to protect yourself and the environment against exposure to air pollution. Children, seniors, immunocompromised people, pregnant women, and adults frequently exercising or working outside are the most susceptible to health impacts from air pollution and must be the most cognizant of current air pollution levels. Following the Air Quality Index (AQI), staying indoors on heavily polluted days, investing in quality air filters, limiting or eliminating toxic chemicals and VOCs indoors, and regular indoor cleaning and maintenance are great ways to reduce exposure to poor air quality. To protect the planet from continued air pollution impacts, evaluate ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Utilize public or alternative transportation methods, divert waste from landfills by recycling or composting, avoid using gas-powered equipment, and support companies actively working toward greenhouse gas reduction goals and eco-friendly targets.
Since the 1970 implementation of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. has seen a decline in concentrations of air pollutants, and continual progress is being made in improving air quality. Poor air quality is a global health crisis that leads to detrimental health impacts on both people and the environment. Understanding these negative impacts and the techniques to reduce exposure is crucial to preserving human and environmental health.
If you’re looking for an easy way to protect the air quality inside your home, start with a high-quality air filter from Discount Filters. If you want to take your indoor air quality (IAQ) to the next level, pair your new air filters with a HEPA air purifier.