have been polluting the earth like never before. A lot of this pollution comes in a visible form, like the garbage we see floating around the ocean and washed up on our beaches, or the dirty water that flows along the river beds of major cities throughout the world. However, pollution also has a second, more hidden aspect – air pollution. Some people, especially those who live in large industrial cities, will be familiar with air pollution, but for many of us, it isn’t something that would ever cross our minds. It should. Poor quality and polluted air can have adverse negative effects on our health and can affect a range of lifestyle aspects¹.
What causes air pollution?
Air pollution is caused by a number of things, some of which are natural, and others, the more harmful ones, which are caused by humans. Air pollution is something which occurs naturally in the form of gases released from volcanoes and smoke from bushfires, among other things. However, this is generally not overly harmful, as it occurs on a relatively small scale and is quickly dispersed throughout the atmosphere².
The problem occurs when human activities cause the release of noxious gases and harmful particulate matter into the atmosphere in high concentrations. This comes from a number of sources, including factories, cars and other fossil fuel burning vehicles, and electricity generation plants³.
- An estimated half of Americans, or around 150 million people, live in areas where the air quality doesn’t meet federal standards.
- In 2008, around 21000 people died in Canada as a direct result of air pollution.
How does poor quality air affect your health?
The average person inhales around 14000 litres of air every day. This air may be clean and healthy, or it may be full of harmful particulates which can aggravate existing health conditions or create new complications³. In general, it is safe to say that breathing poor quality air is bad for your health, and is going to cause at least some form of discomfort. Some of the more common problems associated with poor air quality are:
- Aggravated asthma and respiratory problems – Up to 1 in 13 school age children suffer from some form of asthma. Exposure to polluted air, especially when air particle matter concentrations are high, can aggravate the symptoms of asthma⁴.
- Headaches and anxiety – Breathing in poor quality air exposes your lungs and your brain to poisonous chemicals. This can affect your brain function, and can cause uncomfortable headaches – especially in areas with high sulphur dioxide concentrations³.
- Cancer– In the same way that a smoker has a higher risk of developing cancer of the respiratory system due to the impact of smoke on their bodies, people who breath poor quality air are also at risk. In some ways, breathing polluted air can be likened to smoking – harmful particulate matter is entering your lungs, and lodging there – and it causes cancer and other respiratory problems in a similar way¹.
- Other health impacts – Poor quality air can also impact your health in a number of other ways. These include, but aren’t limited to heart problems, premature birth, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema¹.