By Daniel Brouse
Air pollution may be the largest problem facing the world. Emissions of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases are causing irreversible climate change. Since the effects of global warming take years to become apparent, many people don’t even notice the change; however, air pollution is already the leading cause of death worldwide. Again, since the pollution can’t be seen with the naked eye, many people are in denial of the dire consequences. 92% of the world’s population lives where outdoor air quality fails to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
In March of 2017, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said air pollution is “one of the most pernicious threats” facing global public health today and is on a much bigger scale than HIV or Ebola. Dr. Chan attributed the deaths of 600,000 children per year to indoor and outdoor air pollution.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said, “Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs, they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains, and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”
“Protecting children from air pollution is not only in their best interests; it is also in the best interests of their societies — a benefit realized in reduced health costs, in increased productivity, in a cleaner, safer environment, and thus, in more sustainable development,” Lake said.
It is estimated that 5-7 million people are dying prematurely every year as a result of air pollution.
The American Lung Association says, “Two types of air pollution dominate in the U.S.: ozone and particle pollution. These two pollutants threaten the health and the lives of millions of Americans. Thanks to the Clean Air Act, the U.S. has far less of both pollutants now than in the past. Ozone pollution is the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. and is also one of the most dangerous.”
Ozone Action Alert Days are a frequent occurrence throughout the United States. During an Ozone Alert, you should not breath outside. During any days near metropolitan areas, you should limit outdoor physical activities as deep breathing causes more severe damage. The young and old are at greater risk at all times.
Particle pollution comes from small particles in exhaust and increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks. Particulates can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs.
The Environ Health Perspect Study states, “First and foremost, short-term exposure to particle pollution can kill. Peaks or spikes in particle pollution can last for hours to days. Deaths can occur on the very day that particle levels are high, or within one to two months afterward. Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise—these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.”
In February of 2017, the EPA released an update on air quality in the U.S.:
Today, pollution levels in many areas of the United States exceed national air quality standards for at least one of the six common pollutants:
- Although levels of particle pollution and ground-level ozone pollution are substantially lower than in the past, levels are unhealthy in numerous areas of the country. Both pollutants are the result of emissions from diverse sources, and travel long distances and across state lines.
An extensive body of scientific evidence shows that long- and short-term exposures to fine particle pollution, also known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), can cause premature death and harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, including increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for heart attacks and strokes. Scientific evidence also links PM to harmful respiratory effects, including asthma attacks.
Ozone can increase the frequency of asthma attacks, cause shortness of breath, aggravate lung diseases, and cause permanent damage to lungs through long-term exposure. Elevated ozone levels are linked to increases in hospitalizations, emergency room visits and premature death.
Both pollutants cause environmental damage, and fine particles impair visibility.
Fine particles can be emitted directly or formed from gaseous emissions including sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. Ozone, a colorless gas, is created when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react.
- For unhealthy peak levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, EPA is working with states and others on ways to determine where and how often unhealthy peaks occur. Both pollutants cause multiple adverse respiratory effects including increased asthma symptoms, and are associated with increased emergency department visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illness. Both pollutants cause environmental damage, and are byproducts of fossil fuel combustion.
- Airborne lead pollution, a nationwide health concern before EPA phased out lead in motor vehicle gasoline under Clean Air Act authority, now meets national air quality standards except in areas near certain large lead-emitting industrial facilities. Lead is associated with neurological effects in children, such as behavioral problems, learning deficits and lowered IQ, and high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.
- The entire nation meets the carbon monoxide air quality standards, largely because of emissions standards for new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act.