Air pollution is getting worse and is harming every organ in our bodies

World leaders may be taking action to prevent uncontrollable climate change, but that doesn’t mean there’s less air pollution because it’s actually getting worse and is adversely affecting every organ in our bodies.

Since the dawn of the industrial age, air pollution has been a constant problem affecting our health and lives. Millions of people around the globe have died because of it or have been seriously disabled.

According to a study published by the American College of Chest Physicians:

Air pollution poses a great environmental risk to health. Outdoor fine particulate matter (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter < 2.5 μm) exposure is the fifth leading risk factor for death in the world, accounting for 4.2 million deaths and > 103 million disability-adjusted life years lost.

Countries such as the United Kingdom and Finland are working to make coal fired power a dirty relic of the past, but it turns out that stopping our use of coal is not enough to roll back the harmful pollution that is in the air we breathe.

In the United States, particularly, millions of vehicles on the road produce air pollution, enough that we can actually see it. It’s known as smog.

Additionally, camp fires and wildfires also produce tons of air pollution. And wildfires are only getting worse as climate change worsens.

Air pollution can also be found indoors from cooking and heating, meaning that just going inside to escape pollution outside isn’t really an escape.

“The World Health Organization attributes 3.8 million additional deaths to indoor air pollution,” the study says.

Even more concerning is that the particulates in the air are so small that they can infiltrate every organ in our bodies via our lungs and bloodstream, resulting in significant health issues, especially in those who already have health problems.

“Air pollution can harm acutely, usually manifested by respiratory or cardiac symptoms, as well as chronically, potentially affecting every organ in the body,” the study warns.

It can cause, complicate, or exacerbate many adverse health conditions. Tissue damage may result directly from pollutant toxicity because fine and ultrafine particles can gain access to organs, or indirectly through systemic inflammatory processes. Susceptibility is partly under genetic and epigenetic regulation. Although air pollution affects people of all regions, ages, and social groups, it is likely to cause greater illness in those with heavy exposure and greater susceptibility. Persons are more vulnerable to air pollution if they have other illnesses or less social support. Harmful effects occur on a continuum of dosage and even at levels below air quality standards previously considered to be safe.

Children, however, are more at risk.

Children are especially harmed by air pollution for both environmental and biologic reasons. Children breathe more air per unit body weight and, therefore, inhale more airborne toxicants than adults exposed to the same amount of air pollution. In many parts of the world where biomass is burned indoors for cooking and heating, small children are heavily exposed to indoor air pollution along with their mothers. Children all over the world generally spend more time outdoors and are more physically active than adults, which can result in greater exposure to outdoor air pollution.

Even fetuses are susceptible to air pollution, which can cause lower birth weight that can lead to other issues throughout life.

Unfortunately, while one would hope the Environmental Protection Agency would do something to combat air pollution, it appears more interested in deregulating it to the point that it is even denying that pollution is harmful at all, an ignorant and dangerous denial that will cause millions of preventable health problems and deaths.

Clearly, we need to do a better job cleaning up our air. And that begins with making our voices heard by the government, which can take the most consequential actions to eliminate the pollution that does not belong in our lungs.

If we don’t do something soon, all of us could be forced to wear air filtration masks to protect our health.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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