Air Pollution Diseases

Air pollution is undoubtedly the most problematic type of pollution, as it may involve serious long-term health effects. It is made worse by the fact that everyone could be exposed – because everyone needs to breathe! You can choose the water you drink, but you can’t do much about the air you breathe.

Additionally, many air pollutants can travel long distances from their source, posing risks to our health even in concentrations below the threshold of smell. In other words, we might not even feel that we are breathing polluted air. However, over long periods of time, even low concentrations of contaminants in the air may have devastating health effects. Obviously, the most exposed people are those working and living in polluted air environments (e.g. various industries and buildings with pollutants in indoor air due to various causes). Additionally, big city smog is a reality all over the world, involving outdoor air pollution and potentially affecting a large number of people.

There are two main types of air pollutants:

  • Gases
  • Particulate matter (tiny solid particles suspended in the air, such as dust particles).

Air pollutants get into our bodies through the respiratory tract and lungs, where they potentially get absorbed into our bloodstream and circulate, affecting various other parts and organs.

Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health

The effects of air pollution involve a large variety of illnesses, starting with the simple irritation of eyes, nose, mouth and throat or diminished energy levels, headache and dizziness, but also potentially more serious conditions – of which the most common are:

Respiratory and lung diseases, including:

    • Asthma attacks
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease –COPD
    • Reduced lung function
    • Pulmonary cancer – caused by a series of carcinogen chemicals that enter the body through inhalation
    • Mesothelioma – a particular type of lung cancer, usually associated with exposure to asbestos (it usually occurs 20-30 years after the initial exposure)
    • Pneumonia
  • Leukemia – a type of blood cancer usually associated with exposure to benzene vapors (through inhalation)
  • Birth defects and immune system defects
  • Cardiovascular problems, heart disease and stroke (an increased risk especially due to particulate matter)
  • Neurobehavioral disorders – neurological problems and developmental deficits due to air toxins such as mercury (which is the only volatile metal)
  • Liver and other types of cancer – caused by breathing carcinogenic volatile chemicals
  • Premature death

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