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.

Those 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)
  • invisible (imagine paint fumes).

Both kinds of air pollution 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 and 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

Air pollution is bad.

We’ve been told that a million times.

So, just how bad is air pollution?

Air pollution can cause a number of potentially deadly diseases and illnesses, and according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), that’s exactly what’s happening.

What Does the NIEHS Say?

After an extensive study on the long-term effects of air pollution on public health and safety, the NIEHS determined that extended exposure to polluted air can have drastic effects on a person’s well being.

Airborne pollutants create an increased risk of respiratory illness and organ failure.

Furthermore, air pollution has these damaging effects on people regardless of their proximity to it, and without regard to their age, nationality, or gender.

NIEHS noted that children and elderly citizens are more vulnerable to the potentially life-threatening hazards of air pollution.

Breathing in fine particulate matter and airborne toxins has detrimental effects on those whose immune systems are weakened due to age. Despite the warnings, modern-day air pollution is still allowed to reduce the quality of life for every person in the world.

In fact, science has proven that air pollution is directly responsible for the development of asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and heart disease in many patients.

The Air Pollution-Asthma Connection

Air pollution can exacerbate the symptoms of asthma, even in those who do not usually have flair-ups.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that is often caused by pollution from cars and factories.

This non-profit international environmental advocacy group based in New York City, states that certain air pollutants can trigger asthma more than others, including:

  • Ground level ozone
  • Particulate matter
  • Nitrogen oxide
  • Sulfur dioxide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agreed after the results of their latest study came in. Their research shows the damaging asthmatic effects of air pollution that contains environmental or second-hand tobacco smoke. Obviously, living and breathing fresh, clean air is important to all people, but especially to those with asthma.

How Does Pollution Effect or Cause COPD?

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, is a common disease that some experts believe is caused by breathing polluted air.

The United States National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) both said that a person’s air sacs may become distended, floppy, or lose their shape due to harmful particulate matter in the air.

Furthermore, the American Lung Association, or ALA, recently noted that even very low levels of ground ozone or fine particulate matter can increase a person’s risk of being hospitalized for pneumonia and/or COPD.

Lung Cancer, Air Pollution and You

Lung cancer is characterized by an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. Those abnormal cells eventually turn into tumors, causing the lung cancer diagnosis.

Experts have defined two principal types of lung cancer:

  • non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • small cell lunch cancer (SCLC)

A study published in 2002 in “The Journal of the American Medical Association” illustrated how long-term exposure to fine particulate matter that was generated through combustion can pose a very significant risk to the cardiopulmonary and respiratory health of citizens.

In other words, the emissions from motor vehicles are systematically problematic.

How Does Pollution Cause Heart Disease?

While many people may think that pollution merely affects the respiratory health of citizens, such is not the case. Heart health can also be damaged after an over-exposure to air pollution. Put simply, the human heart reacts just as badly to unhealthy air as the rest of the body does.

Carbon monoxide in the air can reach the blood through the lungs to be carried towards the heart, starving it of the precious oxygen it needs to thrive. For example, the particulates in diesel can cause blood vessels to constrict, thereby limiting blood flow significantly. Over time, the overworked heart can become diseased and require medical attention and diligent management.

A Few Shocking Facts About Health and Air Pollution

If the information above wasn’t enough to scare you, consider these facts:

  • Air pollutants are small enough to burrow deep in the lungs without you knowing it
  • The American Heart Association reports a 1.4% increase in heart disease with every 10 micrograms of particulates per cubic foot of air
  • Current EPA-approved air quality control levels can cause damage to the heart, lungs, brain and other body organs
  • Particulate matter can interfere with the heart’s electrical system, causing heart troubles

Basically, an already damaged body is more susceptible to the effects of modern-day air pollution, and those who are healthy now may not be in the near future.

Well Known Cases of Widespread Air Pollution

Photo Collage of The Great SmogThe Bhopal Disaster in 1984 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.

How to Stay Safe from Air Pollution

While you can’t escape from the presence of outdoor air pollution, a good way to reduce the risks associated with air pollution while indoors is to add an air purifier to your home or office.

Air purifiers clean the air by stripping it of all sorts of airborne pollutants.

The less contaminants there are in the air around you, the less chance there is for you to breathe them in and get sick.

Inexpensive Air Purifier Options

Air cleaners come in all different types, but some of the most economical choices are ones with reusable filters.

We have a dedicated page on our site that shows you what to look for when buying an air cleaner with a permanent filter. Take a look at our air purifier with washable and reusable filter reviews guide to find out more about these devices.

These types of air purifiers are great at keeping you safe from indoor air pollution and don’t require costly filter replacements. It’s a win-win situation all around.

We also have a comprehensive guide that shows you what to look for in a top ionic air purifier for your home. This alternate type of device can drastically help improve the air quality within your home and help prevent the damaging health effects caused by air pollution.

Both air purifiers with washable filters and ionic air purifiers are the most cost-efficient way to keep your indoor air clean. So, take a look at those links above to learn more about them and how they can help you stay safe from air pollution.