Content Provided by the GBS Health & Wellness Team
The World Health Organization estimates 9 out of 10 people regularly breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Air pollution ranges from smog in the city to smoke in the home and is harmful to the environment and individual health. Learn more about what air pollution is, where it comes from, how it impacts health, and what can be done to help improve air quality, both indoors and outdoors.
What is air pollution?
Air pollution is a mixture of natural and man-made substances and tends to be most common in large cities where many different sources become concentrated. Air pollution is typically separated into two categories, outdoor and indoor, both of which have been linked to health-related issues and an estimated 4.6 million deaths each year.
Where does air pollution come from?
Sources of outdoor pollutants include:
Ground Level Ozone – This is a gas created when sunlight triggers a chemical reaction between oxygen and certain pollutants from motor vehicles, construction, and agricultural equipment.
Particulates – Particles that are released when fuel is burned from sources such as cars, power plants, and wildfires.
Noxious Gases – This gas can be formed through the emissions of motor vehicles, power plants, and off-road equipment. One example is nitrogen dioxide, which is harmful to human and environmental health.
Sources of indoor pollutants include:
Gases – Radon, a common gas, may be found underneath your home in various types of bedrock and other building materials.
Volatile Organic compounds (VOCs) – VOCs are compounds that can be released from burning fuel, such as gasoline, and many consumer products such as paints, cleaning products, and air fresheners.
Carbon Monoxide – Carbon monoxide can be found in fumes from the fuel burned in stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and furnaces. To ensure safety, use proper ventilation for gas appliances, have chimneys inspected yearly, and install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
Household Products – Furniture and cleaning products such as chlorine bleach, detergents, dishwashing liquids, floor polish, and oven cleaners may include harmful chemicals. Check all labels and follow instructions when using cleaning and household supplies.
Allergens – Pets can shed allergen substances, such as pet dander and pollen, that may cause allergies.
How does air pollution impact health?
Individuals are affected differently by air pollution with some being more sensitive to pollutants than others. Some of the health impacts of air pollution include:
- Short-term issues: allergic reactions; headaches; nausea; eye, nose, and throat irritation; upper respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia; coughing; chest tightness; and shortness of breath.
- Long-term health issues include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, and heart disease.
How to reduce air pollution?
Help improve air quality with the following tips:
- Travel wise – carpool, check local transit options, bike, or walk.
- Reduce – Combine errands to reduce number of trips made, telework, and avoid excessive idling.
- Use – electric or fuel-efficient cars and lawn care equipment, energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.
- Conserve – turn off lights, electronics, and electric appliances when not in use; run the dishwasher and do laundry only when full.