THE AIR WE BREATHE IS HELL: THE HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF AIR POLLUTION

Published by Amna on 12th Feb 2020

Air pollution is a mixture of different gases and particles that can accumulate into the body and have disastrous results. 

A recent increase in the level of air pollution is related to a greater number of wildfires, global warming, and ever-increasing consumption of fossil fuels.

Air pollution not only affects human health but also has catastrophic effects on our environment. 

Millions of people live in areas where smog, particulate pollution, and toxic pollutants pose serious health and environmental concerns. 

Major air pollutants include particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and ozone at ground level. Health and environmental effects of air pollution are listed below:


Health Effects of Air Pollution

People exposed to a high concentration of air pollutants experience different symptoms of greater or lesser seriousness. 

These effects can be divided into short and long term effects. 

Short-term effects are temporary and include chest tightness, irritation in eyes, nose, skin, and throat, sneezing, dizziness, headaches, and coughing.

However, long-term effects are chronic and may last throughout life and can even lead to death. Air pollution is linked to higher rates of cancer, heart diseases, stroke, and respiratory disorders such as asthma and emphysema (https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/health-impacts/en/ ).

Exposure to air pollutants is associated with oxidative inflammation in cells that leads to many different diseases including cancer. 

An increase in respiratory diseases like emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis are the direct effects of air pollution on human health. 

Other ailments caused by air pollutants such as PM2.5 are cardiovascular disorders.

Long term exposure of some air pollutants increases the risk of emphysema more than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. 

Similarly, recent studies show that air pollution can impact mental health, worker productivity, and stock market performance. (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2747669?guestAccessKey=cfba7399-ed6b-4ff3-abcd-260039916cd9 )

According to WHO, in 2016 an estimated 4.2 million deaths were caused by outdoor air pollution and 91% of the world population was living in areas where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met (https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health).


Who is Most at Risk?

Air pollution affects everyone but certain groups are at high risk of being affected by air pollutants. 

These are children, the elderly, people with heart or lung diseases, and people living in areas where air quality is very low. 

It has long-term but disastrous effects like asthma or bronchitis

Similarly lead causes brain damage in infants leading to slower processing speed and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

In adults, long-term exposure to air pollution hastens physical disabilities. 

PM2.5 is also associated with accelerated memory disorders and Alzheimer’s like diseases.


Environmental Effects of Air Pollution

The main air pollutants that affect our environment are greenhouse gases. 

The increased concentration of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and CFCs has considerably destroyed the ozone layer. 

These gases trap the heat in the atmosphere resulting in changes in climate like global warming. CFCs were banned in the 1980s as they were affecting the ozone layer.

Other pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are present in acid rains and smog. 

Acid rain and smog have more severe impacts on fields and humans. 

Soil fertility is also disturbed by acid rains.

Airborne particles have a direct effect on depletion of nutrients in soil and waterways, harm forests and crops, and cause erosion of historical monuments. 

There is no way to spin any positivity with air pollution. It's a grave situation and a looming death that's not going anywhere. 

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