The Effect of Air Pollution on Human Health

air pollution

Air pollution has turned into a general health concern everywhere throughout the world. Huge scale economic activities and transportation discharges are significant reasons for environmental air pollution.

Recent studies show that air pollution has a huge impact on our general health and well-being. A Cornell University study claims that about 40 percent of all deaths worldwide are caused by environmental pollution. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), almost half of million people die prematurely due to air pollution. More than twenty million people die from environmental pollution every year, mostly in developing countries of South and East Asia.

In addition, outdoor air pollution affects our homes’ indoor air quality that increases the risk of various health problems.

Types of Environmental Pollution

Recent studies revealed the negative impact of air pollution on human health causing so-called environmental pollution diseases. Diseases caused by pollution can be originated from air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, food pollution, and noise pollution and some other factors.

Ambient air pollution is one of the most widely spread and affects everyone. Clearly, the most affected individuals are those working and living in polluted air conditions (for example, different industries and buildings with indoor air pollution). Moreover, enormous city smog is a common reality everywhere around the world which is affecting countless individuals.

There are different air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, sulfur oxide, and organic volatile compounds.

Air pollution
Air pollution by industrial chimneys

Impact of Air Pollution on Health

Air pollutants can enter our bodies in the form of gases and particulate matter (PM) through the airways and lungs. Once in the body, toxic compounds enter our circulatory blood system, affecting different parts and organs. Symptoms can range from simple ones like nausea, dizziness, headache, and coughing to more serious ones such as respiratory and lung diseases.

Serious health conditions caused by air pollution include respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke. Respiratory diseases due to poor air quality in urban areas are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Air Pollution and Cancer

Air pollution is a leading cause of various types of cancer. Severe illnesses include pulmonary cancer, such as mesothelioma, a particular type of lung cancer that is usually associated with exposure to asbestos.

Leukemia, a type of blood cancer, is usually associated with exposure to benzene vapors via inhalation. Cancers of the liver and other organs are caused by inhalation of carcinogenic volatile chemicals.

Skin cancer is usually seen as a result of prolonged exposure to UV radiation. However, exposure to environmental pollution can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Air Pollution
Air pollution by industrial chimneys

Air Pollution and Mental Health

Particles smaller than PM2.5 and ultrafine particles (UFPM), can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the brain and the central nervous system. Several studies have been shown that these particles negatively affect the structure of the brain, causing degenerative changes such as a decrease of white matter or neuronal degeneration.

Chronic exposure to ambient air pollution can cause oxidative stress and neuroinflammation which leads to physiological alterations of the central nervous system.

Therefore, air pollution is one of the important factors that can affect mental health, causing the early onset of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia.

Air Pollution Is Linked to Depression and Suicide

Depressive disorders affect about 350 million people worldwide resulting in reduced quality of life, a higher risk of morbidity and premature mortality.

Numerous studies have shown that environmental pollution may be linked to bipolar disorder, depression, and suicide. The link between an elevated exposure to tiny particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and ozone and depressive episodes has been confirmed. There are many risk factors for such mental conditions, the most significant of which are the social circumstance or chronic infections.

Air Pollution Affects Kids’ Mental Health

Cincinnati’s study has shown a positive correlation between elevated exposure to air pollution and a kid’s mental health. Poor air quality caused inflammation and the rise of depressive episodes, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Accumulated evidence confirms that children exposed to poor air conditions revealed decreased attention, short-term memory, and below-average levels of an intelligent quotient. The negative environmental impact on a kid’s mental health may be elevated by poverty caused by stress and other social and health conditions.

Several studies link autism and autism-like disorders to the effect of fine PM from ambient air pollution.  Air pollution affects prenatal brain development and an increased risk of developing mental disorders as well as neurobehavioral disorders, birth and immune system defects, and premature death.

Altogether, the link between urban air pollution and human health condition is obvious. Air pollution is an environmental hazard, therefore, novel public health initiatives have to be implemented to prevent health deterioration reaching epidemic proportions.

Governments and businesses need to focus on greening our cities and changing to cleaner transport. Sustainable cities and communities programs should focus on investing in environmentally friendly public transport, green buildings, and public spaces, as well as improving urban planning and management.

What green initiatives have been implemented in your city or community so far? Are you satisfied with the environmental situation in your city or does it still need to be improved? Please leave your comment below.

Author: EcoDesign&EcoLifestyle

Researcher, entrepreneur, and artist at heart.

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