Air Pollution and Your Health:
The quality of the air we breathe
directly affects our health and well-being. Because human lungs have a large
surface area and because people consume so much air, lungs are the greatest
source of exposure to air pollution. According to recent studies, air pollution
kills about 50,000 people in the U.S. each year from heart disease, asthma,
stroke, bronchitis and the like.
Other Sources of Information - The following reports and websites also contain information on pollutant health effects.
Ozone - Exposure to ozone (O3), a toxic component of photochemical smog, results in significant airway inflammation, respiratory discomfort, and pulmonary function impairment. The main target of ozone exposure is the respiratory system. Long-term exposure to low levels of ozone may produce a significant decrease in lung functions. Once ozone has been eliminated from breathing stream, fatigue, and headache may persist for several months. Mild to moderate exposure to ozone produces upper respiratory tract symptoms and eye irritation, like acclimation, burning of the eyes and throat, nonproductive cough, headache, chest soreness and bronchial irritation. (For additional information on Ozone )
Carbon Monoxide - The main target of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure is the delivery of oxygen to the bodys organs and tissues. Long-term exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide has been associated with impaired vision, loss of manual dexterity and the loss of short-term memory, as well as headache, dizziness, weakness, confusion, and nausea. Exposure to high levels can result in loss of consciousness and death. Carbon monoxide exposure can aggravate heart and artery disease, and may cause chest pain in individuals with pre-existing heart disease. (For additional information on Carbon Monoxide )
Sulfur Dioxide - The main target of sulfur dioxide (SO2) exposure is the respiratory system. Long-term exposure to low levels of sulfur dioxide can result in lung function changes, like difficulties breathing; however, workers may also be exposed to other chemicals, making it difficult to attribute their health effects to sulfur dioxide alone. Short-term exposure to high levels can cause burning of the nose and throat, breathing difficulties and airway obstructions. Animal studies have shown similar results, as with human studies, with an increase in severity of symptoms, like destruction of areas of the lung and infection of the airways. It is unknown whether children are more vulnerable to exposure to sulfur dioxide than adults; effects are similar. It is known that exercising asthmatics are sensitive to low concentrations of sulfur dioxide. Therefore, increased susceptibility is expected in children with asthma. Exposure can be assessed with a blood or urine samples, or lung function test. (For additional information on Sulfur Dioxide )
Nitrogen Dioxide - The main target of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure is the respiratory system. Long-term chronic exposure to low levels of nitrogen dioxide is not completely understood. An increased susceptibility to respiratory infection may occur, with a possible aggravation of asthma and allergic disorders. Also, erosion of dental enamel has been reported with chronic exposure. Short-term acute exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide can cause a rapid pulse, chest congestion, rapid and shallow respiration, and mild or violent coughing. Neurologically, high levels can cause fatigue, restlessness, anxiety, mental confusion and lethargy. Nitrogen dioxide is apparently not directly carcinogenic in humans, but may enhance or modify the growth of lung tumors in laboratory animals. The routes of exposure are inhalation, absorption through the skin or eyes, or ingestion. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide can be assessed with a chest x-ray. (For additional information on Nitrogen Dioxide )
Particulate Matter - The main target of particulate matter (PM) exposure is the respiratory system. Particulate matter identifies a broad class of chemically and physically diverse substances that exist as discrete particles; liquid droplets or solids. Sizes range from 0.005 microns in diameter to coarse particles of 100 microns.
The different particle size causes varying health effects upon exposed individuals. Coarse particles can accumulate in the respiratory system and aggravate health problems such as asthma. Fine particulates are a health threat because of their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs, causing premature mortality and increased hospital admissions. These fine particles are so small that several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence. The elderly, children, asthmatics and individuals with preexisting heart or lung disease are most at risk from particulate matter exposure. (For additional information on Particulate Matter )
Lead - The main target of lead (Pb) exposure is the nervous system. Long-term exposure to low levels of lead at work has resulted in altered functioning of the nervous system, anemia and increased blood pressure. At high levels of exposure, lead can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children, and cause reproductive dysfunction in men. Animal studies have shown that with high doses of lead, rats and mice develop kidney tumors. A correlation between rodent cancer and cancer in humans has not been proven. Children are more sensitive to the effects of lead than adults. However, studies have shown that levels of lead in the blood of children in the United States has been getting lower each year due to lead being banned from gasoline, residential paint, and solder used in cans and water pipes. Depending on how much lead a child ingests, it may cause anemia, kidney damage, muscle weakness and neurological damage. Low levels may affect a childs mental and physical growth. Exposure can be assessed with a blood sample or x-ray of bones. (For additional information on Lead )
Hazardous Air Pollutants - Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) are linked to severe health effects including cancer, birth defects, and neurological problems. (For additional information on HAPs )