8 Health Conditions Brought On by Air Pollution and What You Can Do About It
Did you know that pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people? Children are at an even greater risk of health problems related to pollution, as they breathe more quickly and thus are exposed to more pollutants.
Several health issues are directly related to air pollution, and these cost us as much as $22 billion in healthcare dollars. In addition, conditions related to pollution can significantly impact both longevity and quality of life. Here are just 8 conditions with links to air pollution rates:
University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers say air pollution contributes significantly to new asthma diagnoses, costing us $18 million in healthcare. Fine particulate matter from traffic also makes existing asthma worse by inflaming airways. In addition, other respiratory conditions are exacerbated by air pollution.
Traffic pollution may be a contributor to autism. A University of Southern California study found that exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy and a child’s first year of life could increase the risk of autism by three-fold.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that there is a link between air pollution and cognitive decline in seniors. A separate study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that freeway pollution may contribute to significant brain damage similar to that of age-associated memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
High Blood Pressure/Cardiovascular Disease
Inhaling air pollution over just two hours can cause a significant increase in diastolic blood pressure. Nearly one in three Americans suffer from hypertension, which can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke and other life-threatening problems.
Exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of premenopausal breast cancer in women. A study by the University of Buffalo found that changes in DNA make cells unstable and could lead to cancerous tumors. Additionally, people who live in places with high levels of air pollutants have a 20% higher risk of death from lung cancer than people who live in less-polluted areas.
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital in Boston found that for every 10 microgram per cubic meter risk in fine particulate matter there is an associated 1% increase in diabetes rates. Even in locations where air pollution is considered to be within safety limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, areas with the highest levels of particulate pollution had more than a 20% increase in diabetes prevalence over areas with the lowest rates.
Traffic-generated pollution may increase the risk of preterm birth. A study of women exposed to traffic pollutants in Los Angeles found between a 6 and 21% increased risk than was expected. Babies born prematurely are at risk for a range of medical problems throughout their lives.
Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that exposure to traffic pollution may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by as much as 31%.
What Can We do About It?
Motor vehicles produce more air pollution than any other single human activity. In America, vehicle exhaust contributes rougly 60% of all carbon monoxide emissions nationwide.
• Take public transportation when possible. One full commuter bus can mean 40 less cars on the roads.
• Carpool to work or school.
• If you can, ride a bike or walk for shorter commutes. Short car trips are up to three times more polluting per mile than long trips. In addition to reducing air pollution, you will also be doing your body good!
• Use energy (light, water, etc) wisely. Cutting down on use will not only cut down the amount of pollution in the air, but could potentially save you money!
• Recycle and re-use. As manufacturing industries produce a significant amount of pollution, re-using what we already have can have a great impact on the air we breathe.
• Quit smoking. If you do smoke, please do not smoke in enclosed areas, especially around children.
Do Something.Org – 11 Facts About Pollution
Coalition for Clean Air – 10 Air Pollution Facts
Environmental Protection Agency – Ways to Reduce Air Pollution