Air Pollution Causes and Effects on Human Health

Photo of Woman Walking Around in Air PollutionThe term ‘pollution’ is a negative term we frequently hear used by the media and those in our community.

In relation to the air, there are different kinds of pollution that occur indoors as opposed to outdoors and vice versus.

In this post, we’ll quickly break down the term down so that you know exactly what it is and talk about the various air pollution causes and effects on human health.

So, let’s take a moment to examine air pollution.

Air Pollution

Whether you are inside or outside, air pollution refers to the presence of man-made particulates in the air that can potentially cause harm.  These chemical and biological changes to the air can include things like gas, smoke, and dust.  Air pollution creates an imbalance that can be potentially harmful to people.  Those who are young, old, or have weakened immune systems are at particular risk for the effects of air pollution on human health.

Air pollution can be further broken down into two kinds: visible (think smog) and invisible (imagine paint fumes). Both kinds are harmful to your health, but the invisible forms are ones that you don’t often think about hurting you on a daily basis since you can’t see them.

Air pollution consists of any particles that have the potential of negatively affecting the earth’s atmosphere and/or the wellbeing of humans and animals that live in it.

Typically, the concentration of some kind of pollutant (think chemical in the air) will make the difference between ‘harmless,’ ‘pollution,’ and ‘dangerous.’  For example, let’s take a moment to consider C02 or carbon dioxide.  At rates around 5-10% in the air, it can become toxic and cause serious harm/death.  At the same time, rates below .05 are considered safe for breathing and are typically not a problem.

What Causes Air Pollution

  1. The Burning Of Fossil Fuels
    A major contributor to air pollution, sulfur dioxide is emitted from combustion of things like petroleum and coal.  Factories are among the primary causes of air pollution as well as vehicles powered by fossil fuels.  In addition, carbon monoxide can be released into the environment when incomplete combustion occurs.  An additional pollutant is nitrogen oxide that can also come from man-made processes.  Simply put, there are many parts of our daily life that are only made convenient and possible thanks to fossil fuels, however the tradeoff is an impact on our health.
  1. The Agricultural Activity
    One of the most common air pollutants created by agricultural work is ammonia.  It can be one of the most dangerous chemicals in the atmosphere and cause a lot of damage to people.  At the same time, its use in things like pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers has grown a great deal.  Along with air pollution, ammonia oxide as well as other chemicals can also cause water pollution when runoff enters the local streams and rivers.
  1. Exhaust
    We touched on this a little above.  Exhaust from industries like manufacturing can release high amounts of carbon monoxide, organic compounds, and hydrocarbons into the air.  This dramatically reduces the quality of the air.  In particular, petroleum refineries can be a big source of pollutants entering the atmosphere, as well as automobiles.
  1. Mining
    Another big cause of air pollution is mining.  Extracting rare materials from the earth is a challenging process that requires a great deal of energy to extract.  This ends up creating a large amount of pollution as well as dust and chemicals.  Mining operations have been shown to decrease the health and wellbeing of nearby residents and workers.
  1. Indoor Air Pollution
    Last but not least, we end our list with indoor air pollution.  Things like household cleaning products, the material in the walls, and even painting supplies can all emit toxic chemicals into the air. Due to these elements, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that homes are 2-5 times more polluted than the outdoors.

Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health

Photo Collage of The Great SmogAir pollution is bad.  We’ve been told that a million times.  So, just how bad is air pollution?  We as individuals have a natural tendency to block polluted air.  Coughing is a way we protect our lungs.  Covering our faces with a cloth is instinctual.  While we can block a lot of what we can see and smell, there are air pollutants out there that can remain undetected with our senses.

The Bhopal Disaster in 1952 is a good example of the causes and effects of air pollution on health. A poisonous gas leaked at a pesticide plant and killed 6,000 people in the city of Bhopal, India.

The Great Smog is another air pollution related event that happened in London when the deadly pollutants from coal burning hung over the city and killed around 4,000 people.  It also caused an incredible rise in cancer.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) lists air pollution as one of the world’s greatest killers.  Even in the United States, it is estimated that around 41,000 people a year die due to air pollution.

Aside from death, there are also thousands of more cases of people having respiratory problems thanks to air pollution. When not carefully monitored, air pollution can have a dramatic effect on your health and well being.

A good way to reduce the risks associated with air pollution while indoors is to add an air purifier to your home or office. To find out more about how air purifiers operate and how they can help, take a look at that section of our site on this specific topic.