Surprising Facts About Air Pollution
and How to Protect Yourself
Everyday you breathe in about 15,000 liters of air. If that air is polluted, the toxins are transported to all the organs in your body — not just your lungs. In fact, polluted air gets carried, via your bloodstream, from your lungs to your heart, liver, brain and other organs.
You can check the daily air quality in your area at AirNow.gov.
Sadly, air pollution is now a widespread problem in the United States. It comes from multiple sources — factories, power plants, dry cleaners, cars and trucks, wildfires and even from materials in your home.
Two out of every five people, or 42 percent of the U.S. population, actually live in counties that have unhealthful levels of ozone or particle pollution — two types of air pollution — according to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air”.
Outdoor Air is Only Part of the Problem
The air inside of your home may actually be an even bigger threat to your health than outdoor air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
“In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.
Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.”
Air pollution is especially dangerous to children because their lungs are still growing and they tend to spend long periods of time being active outdoors.
What are the Health Risks of Air Pollution?
About 4 percent of deaths in the United States can be attributed to air pollution, according to the Environmental Science Engineering Program at the Harvard School of Public Health. And, alarmingly, in the most polluted cities it has been estimated that lives are shortened by an average of one to two years, according to research by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University.
For instance, long-term exposure to air pollution, particularly that from motor traffic, increases the risk of fatal heart attacks, according to a study published by the Karolinska Institute, Institute of Environmental Medicine.
Another study, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that air pollution increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and makes respiratory problems worse, by thickening the blood and increasing inflammation, respectively.
While everyone is at risk from polluted air, certain groups are most at risk, according to the American Lung Association. These are:
- People with asthma (over 2.2 million children and 5.5 million adults with asthma live in areas with very high levels of ozone)
- The elderly and the young (over 10.2 million adults over age 65 and nearly 24 million children live in counties with unhealthful levels of ozone)
- Those with chronic bronchitis and emphysema (nearly 2,9 million people with chronic bronchitis and over 1.2 million with emphysema live in counties with unhealthful levels of ozone)
- People with cardiovascular disease (over 20 million people with cardiovascular disease live in areas with unhealthful levels of short-term particle pollution)
- People with diabetes (over 4.6 million people with diabetes live in areas with unhealthful levels of short-term particle pollution)
Air Pollution is Devastating the Environment
On an environmental level, air pollution may even be threatening our food supply. According to a new study by University of Virginia researchers, air pollution from power plants and automobiles is destroying the fragrance of flowers and thereby inhibiting the ability of pollinating insects (such as bees) to follow scent trails to their source.
“The scent molecules produced by flowers in a less polluted environment, such as in the 1800s, could travel for roughly 1,000 to 1,200 meters; but in today’s polluted environment downwind of major cites, they may travel only 200 to 300 meters,” said Jose D. Fuentes, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a co-author of the study. “This makes it increasingly difficult for pollinators to locate the flowers.”
And since an estimated one-third of the U.S. food supply is dependent on pollination from bees, this could have far-reaching consequences.
Tips to Protect Yourself from Air Pollution
- Purify your indoor air. Air Treatment Systems, which use photocatalysis, are designed to oxidize organic odors, germs, and fungi. This technology creates ultraviolet light rays, safe levels of ozone, and passive negative ions as part of your air treatment. These types of air purifiers that duplicate Nature’s own methods of air cleaning and revitalization.
- If pollution is particularly heavy in your area (you can check daily air quality levels in your area here), keep your windows and doors closed and run your air conditioner (make sure the filter is clean).
- When pollution is heavy, be sure to drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic) to keep your respiratory tract moist.
- Avoid high levels of smog and pollution. These are typically highest during the midday and afternoon. If you’re in a high-risk group, don’t go outside when ozone levels are high.
- Exercise when the air is cleaner. When you exercise (or work strenuously), you draw air more deeply into your lungs, and therefore risk more damage from air pollution. To protect yourself and get the numerous health benefits of exercise, avoid exercising near congested streets and during rush-hour traffic, and definitely if there’s a wildfire burning in your area.