Air pollution and health problems are being linked more and more. On a personal level you can improve your air quality by using air filters and being careful about the furnishings and finishes you use in your home and office. You can also strive to reduce your pollution by having energy efficient cars and furnaces and being judicious with your use of both. Buying Green Tags or participating in carbon offsetting programs will also make a difference in reducing air pollution and health problems.
When you consider that the human body requires clean oxygen to live, it’s not surprising that air pollution and health are closely related. In addition to outdoor air pollution that includes acid rain, smog, and particles caused by burning fuel, air pollution also is found inside. Inside air pollution is caused by activities we do inside such as cooking, smoking, using heating appliances and even air fresheners, as well as by construction materials and finishes. The link between inside and outside air pollution and health is incontrovertible and both must be considered when we think of our exposure to air pollution.
Outdoor Air Pollution
Smog is primarily caused by automobile exhaust and industrial emissions. Since cars and factories tend to be most dense in cities, smog is more sever in cities than in outlying areas. However, power plants spew lots of pollution and are often found in rural areas, damaging the air quality in the country too. This is especially true during warmer months or when a condition called temperature inversion occurs. In these conditions, air pollution is trapped near the earth and cannot disperse, which can cause dangerous levels of pollution.
Outdoor air pollution can cause rain or snow to become acidified when a pollutant combines with the water in the air. Acid rain can harm plants and soil, can change the chemistry of streams, lakes and other bodies or water, and can harm trees and wildlife.
The chemicals that cause pollution can also harm the atmospheric layers that surround the earth. This ozone depletion is dangerous because the ozone is what protects the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. As “holes” develop in the ozone, ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface is known to cause skin cancer and damaging effects on plants and wildlife.
Indoor Air Pollution
Radon is released from the earth. When it is released outdoors or when it is contained inside the earth, it isn’t harmful. When radon gas escapes the earth and seeps into basements or cellars where is cannot dissipate, it becomes concentrated and is dangerous for our health.
When building materials like carpet, plywood, paints, solvents, and varnish emit vapor, commonly referred to as VOCs (volatile organic compounds), they cause pollution, which concentrates inside and can cause health problems.
Carbon monoxide is a gas that is caused by burning charcoal inside, incorrectly adjusted pilot lights, and faulty vents and chimneys. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide is odorless and can kill its victims quickly and silently.
Dander, dust from skin, dust mites, mold, feces, and pollen are some of the biological pollutants found indoors. These pollutants cause problems indoors because of the lack of circulation, which leads to an increased concentration and accumulation.
The lack of adequate ventilation in our homes and offices, allows indoor air pollution to concentrate. Since people spend so much of their time each day indoors (as much as 80-90%), people have more exposure time to indoor pollution than to outdoor pollution.
Will Air Pollution Compromise Your Health?
There is no way for us to avoid air pollution in the air we breathe. The amount of exposure and intensity of indoor and outdoor air pollution will vary from person to person, and the effects of pollution will vary as well. The elderly and young children are more sensitive to the effects of pollutants than other age groups. Plus, people with health conditions such as asthma and lung disease suffer more when air pollution levels are high.
All things being equal, your health risk due to pollution depends on how long you are exposed to the pollutant and how concentrated the pollutants are. Minor exposure to low pollution levels will cause irritation to your eyes, nose and throat, headaches, nausea, and may even cause upper respiratory infections. More severe exposure to pollutants can cause chronic problems like asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, brain and nerve damage, or damage to kidneys and your liver.
An estimated 4.6 million people each year die from illnesses caused directly by both indoor and outdoor air pollution. So what can you do to protect yourself? The answer is not simple because we all need air to live. Countries throughout the world are regulating outdoor pollution emissions and each of us can reduce our exposure and creation of indoor pollution. It’s important to be aware of and manage the negative connection between of air pollution and health. The healthier you keep your body, the stronger you’ll be to fight the negative health effects of air pollution.