Air Pollution and its Effects on Human Health
Abstract: The paper reviews air pollution and focuses on the two types that there is. Air pollution can be divided into indoor air pollution and outdoor air pollution. Indoor pollution is bad indoor air quality. This can be caused by chemicals used in the home, construction materials, animal dander and dust mites. In this paper, three types of indoor air pollution are discussed: Asbestos, biological agents and carbon monoxide and how they effect human health. Outdoor air pollution is the bad air quality of the outdoors. Sources of outdoor pollution are human activities, car emission, ozone (smog), and lead. These pollutants are bad on human health and in this paper three types are discussed: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and lead. Although there are two types of air pollutions both affect each other, especially when indoor air goes outside or vice versa. It is important for people to understand how dangerous air pollution is and how we can lessen it in the environment.
Keywords: air pollution, carbon monoxide, health effects, humans, children, gases, indoor, outdoor, carcinogens, pollutants
. Earth is surrounded by air made up of a mixture of extremely important gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. These gases provide humans with oxygen for respiration to occur, and provides carbon dioxide to plants for photosynthesis. It is important for human health that the air we breathe is clean. Due to man-made contributions to the environment and the ecosystem such as deforestation and factories; smog, smoke and other chemical components are put out into the air causing it to become polluted. Air pollution according to the National Geographic encyclopedia “consists of chemicals or particles in the air that can harm the health of humans, animals, and plants” (National Geographic Society 2012).
Air pollution is divided into two categories: 1) indoor pollution and 2) outdoor pollution. Indoor pollution is the degradation of indoor air quality. There are many sources of indoor pollution such as combustion (tabaco, smoke, stoves and fireplaces), household products, construction materials, biologic agents (microbes and pets), off-gassing from water and soil gas (Pirozzi & Paine). According to a Hong-Kong based doctor, Dr. Kong Ching-boon, indoor pollution “can be up to ten times worse than outdoor pollution (Ching-boon 2016). Outdoor pollution is a complex mixture of several pollutants in the air outside. Some examples of common air pollutants are ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and toxic air pollutants. Indoor and outdoor pollution both cause major health issues for humans.
Indoor air pollution is relevant to health because people spend most of their time indoors. Moreover, women and children are more prone to the health issues than men because they spend more time indoors than they do outdoors. According to The National Human Activity Pattern Survey, the average time spent in enclosed buildings is 87% of the time (Klepeis, et al. 2001). Indoor sources of air pollution can be categorized by type of source and pollutant group. The sources of pollution may result from combustion processes for cooking and heating, from human activities (smoking), presence of biological agents, and use of chemical substances, and from emissions of construction materials and furniture (“Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals” 2018). Three common indoor pollution sources with their hazards to human health will be discussed.
Common Indoor Air Pollutants
- Asbestos: Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. Due to its fiber strength and substantial resistance to heat, it has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire resistant. Some examples of manufactured goods that contain asbestos are roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, automobile breaks, transmission parts, heat resistant fabrics, packaging and paint. Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos containing materials are disturbed by remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove asbestos containing materials can release asbestos fibers into the air of homes. This can cause major health problems for the people in the home. Asbestos can cause asbestosis, which is scarring in the lungs that leads to breathing problems and heart failure (“Asbestos” 2015). Inhalation of asbestos can also cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the linings of the chest and abdomen. Asbestos may also be linked to cancer of the stomach, intestines, and rectum. Because asbestosis results from high levels of exposure, the major concern is mesothelioma, which occurs after exposure to lower levels of asbestos, levels typically found in households (Gaensler 1992).
- Biological Agents: Biological agents are living organisms that promote poor indoor air quality (Johnson 1997). Examples of these agents are house dust mites, animal dander, mold, bacteria, viruses and pollen. Many of these are found in every home, even a spotless home may permit the growth of these biological agents. Two conditions are essential to support the growth of these agents: nutrients and moisture. Conditions like these are found in locations such as bathrooms, damp or flooded basements, wet appliances (humidifiers or air conditioners) and even some carpets and furniture. Researchers have found that about 11 percent of homes have visible signs of dampness (Crist 2017). The percentage of homes with dampness, visible or not, is likely to be higher in warm and moist climates. The effects of biological agents on human health depends upon the type, amount exposed to and the individual person (“Biological Pollutants in Your Home” 2016). Some people may not experience any effects and others may experience one or more. Allergic reactions, infections, and even toxic reactions may occur. The most common reactions that occurs is an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions are mostly caused by animal dander, house dust mites, and pollen. The reaction can range from mild to life threatening (asthma attack) effects. Common signs and symptoms are watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing and fatigue (“Biological Pollutants in Your Home” 2016).
- Carbon Monoxide (CO): Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and toxic gas (“Carbon Monoxide’s Impact on indoor Air Quality” 2018). Because of its characteristics, carbon monoxide can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause effects on human health. The effects vary greatly from person to person. Sever factors play a role on how carbon monoxide can effect ones health such as age, overall health, concentration and the length of exposure. There are many indoor sources of carbon monoxide. Some include unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, gas stoves, automobile exhaust from attached garages, generators, boilers and furnaces. At a low concentration of carbon monoxide being exposed, some effects on ones health are fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. When concentrations are moderate, some effects are angia, impaired vision and reduced brain function. Someone exposed to high concentrations of carbon monoxide may experience effects such as impaired vision and coordination, headaches, confusion, nausea and dizziness. High concentrations may also be fatal. Acute effects are due to the formation of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood, an inhibitor of oxygen intake (“Carbon Monoxide’s Impact on Indoor Air Quality” 2018).
Indoor air pollution is difficult not to generate in ones home. It is important to address our indoor air quality to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions. Some things one can do to improve indoor air quality are to open a window, ban smoking, regularly bathe pets and also use door mats. It is important to open windows to allow circulation between the air indoors and the air outdoors. Ventilation is important to promote healthy indoor air. Banning smoking in homes or even businesses would make indoor air much healthier. Second hand smoke impairs respiratory health (Farrell 2017). Exhaust fans in homes are important in to kitchens to remove cooking fumes and to remove steam from bathrooms. There are many other ways people can reduce or avoid indoor air pollution.
There is a number of different sources that cause outdoor air pollution. A major part of outdoor air pollution is contributed by motor vehicles and industrial processes (Abelsohn 2011). People who are most affected by outdoor air pollutants are those who work outdoors such as home builders and farmers. Urban area residents or workers are typically exposed to pollutants such as ozone, particulate matter (dust and smoke) and mixtures that contain chemicals such as benzyne and xylene. Rural area residents and workers are exposed to slightly different pollutants than those encountered in urban areas. For example, agricultural workers are exposed to grain dusts and toxic residues such as aflatoxin. Heavy exposure to grain dust can cause a respiratory disease called Farmers Lung and exposure to aflatoxin can cause cancer. These are pollutants you wouldn’t normally find in urban areas.
Air pollution is considered to be the major environmental risk factor in the incidence and progression of many diseases (Ghorani-Azam, Adel et al. 2016). Some include asthma, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, physiological complications, retinopathy, fetal growth and affects birth weight. Some of the effects of air pollution are short term and then there are some that are long term. Short term effects are temporary such as pneumonia, bronchitis, irritation to the nose, eyes or throat, headaches, dizziness and nausea. Long term effects are longer lasting, sometimes for life or just for several years. These are the ones that can lead to death, such as heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases. Some scientists believe that air pollution causes birth defects (National Geographic Society 2012). The effects of air pollution depend on what type of pollutant it is and how much of a concentration there is. Three common outdoor air pollutants with their effects to human health will be discussed.
Common Outdoor Air Pollutants
- Ground Level Ozone: Ground level ozone, also known as O3, is a result of by products of combustion interacting with sunlight (Levitan 2018). This pollutant is the main component of air pollution known as smog (“Ozone Effects on Human Health”). Some sources of pollution that cause ground level ozone are cars, power plants and chemical plants. Ground level ozone is a hazard to human health causing respiratory problems. Long term exposure of this pollutant may result in permanent damage to the lungs (“Smog and Ground-Level Ozone” 2015). It aggravates conditions such as allergies, asthma and emphysema. This type of pollution affects people who have lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are more active (Chief 2017). Not only is this pollution harmful to humans, but to the environment as well. It causes harm to vegetation and to wildlife.
- Particulate Matter: Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution is made up of particles of solids or liquids that are in the air (“Air Quality” 2016). It is made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles. Sources of this pollution can be manmade or natural. Manmade sources include vehicle emissions, mechanical and industrial processes and tobacco smoke. Natural sources or particulate matter include fires, dust storms, volcano eruptions and aerosolized sea salt. Particles of particulate matter are divided into two types: coarse (bigger) particles and fine (smaller) particles. Coarse particles, also known as PM10 can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. Fine particles, called PM25 are more dangerous to the human population. These particles can get into the deep part of the lungs and even the blood stream. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that exposure to particulate matter in outdoor air is carcinogenic to humans and causes lung cancer (Hamra, Ghassan B., et al. 2014). Particulate matter pollution can cause lung irritation, leading to increased permeability in lung tissue (“Health Effects”). It also causes rapid loss of air way function in people who already suffer from chronic lung diseases. This particular pollution has had many studies show that it exerts significant effects on the cardiovascular system (Anderson, Thundiyil. & Stolbach 2011). It may cause blood clots and even heart attacks. The people who are most susceptible to the health effects of this pollution are children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease and especially people who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Lead: Lead is a naturally occurring metal in the Earth’s crust that has become widely spread due to human activity (“Lead Poisoning” 2016). Activities include stuff like mining and burning of fossil fuels. Back in the day, lead was used in paint and gasoline, but today it is found in things like batteries, pipes, pottery, and roofing materials. Many older home and buildings still have walls and woodwork that contain lead based paint. When taken into the body by swallowing or breathing, it can be very hazardous (Department of Health & Human Services 2012). Once lead has entered the body it circulates in the blood and can be stored in the bones. The health effects due to lead exposure depend on a variety of factors such as age, the amount of lead that was exposed, length of exposure and if other health conditions are present (Department of Health & Human Services 2012). Young children are more prone to lead exposure because of their curiosity. They tend to pick everything up and chew on it and may pick up lead dust that may contaminate their tiny hands. Children who are undernourished are even more susceptible to lead poison because their bodies absorb more lead if other nutrients such as calcium or iron are lacking (“Lead Poisoning and health” 2018). Adults that work in jobs that require lead based activities are also at a high risk for health effects than those who do not. Lead exposure has many effects to the body. It may lead to neurological, renal, hematological, endocrine, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, reproductive and developmental effects (“Environmental Health and Medicine Education” 2017).
Not only does outdoor pollution effect human health, but it also has a major effect on the environment and the economy. It causes climate change and ocean acidification. With an increase in carbon pollution, scientists warn that it may lead to more intense hurricanes and storms, more flooding, increased drought and more wildfires (“Air Pollution: Current and Future Challenges” 2018). This will not only cause significant amounts of deaths, illnesses or injuries but it will also cause billions and billions of dollars of damage to properties and even agriculture (crops). Air pollution will also make the air less healthy for farmers to produce crops and provide healthy food. The best protection from outdoor air pollution is to remain indoors, especially when ozone alerts are on the rise.
Air pollution is a problem that continues to grow as years pass by. It is a problem that can not be stopped because even if humans were not living on Earth plants, animals, and natural activity would still cause a good amount of pollution. Although it may not be able to be stopped completely there is still many things humans can do to prevent or lessen the amount of air pollution indoors and outdoors. Both types of pollution effect human health rapidly and significantly. Many diseases are caused by pollution and many of pre-existing are worsened. It is important to control sources that may contribute to the cause of air pollution by implementing ordinances around the world. Some places may have higher concentration or air pollution than others, but the problem is still there and still needs to be taken care of.
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