You may think just because air pollution is often invisible to the naked eye, it doesn’t affect you. Sure, there are days when London’s skyline becomes hazy with smog, but for the majority of the calendar year, deadly contaminants in the air are not visible to us. However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t there and that they aren’t seriously damaging to our health.
A variety of contaminants can be found in the air we breathe on a daily basis, which over time can ravage our bodies and lead to illness, disease and even premature death. In fact, a recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that air pollution accounted for the deaths of as many as seven million people worldwide in 2012.
Types of Air Pollution
Chief among the offending contaminants in everyday air is particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5). This harmful pollutant is comprised of tiny particles smaller than 2.5mm in diameter, meaning it can be easily inhaled and can infiltrate our bloodstream. This has be linked to a variety of disorders, including coronary complications such as heart attacks and strokes, as well as exacerbating previously existing lung conditions like asthma.
Another damaging contaminant is ozone – though not the kind found in the ozone layer. Tropospheric ozone is manmade and found at far lower altitudes than stratospheric ozone (the good kind). Exposure to high levels of ozone can irritate the skin, throat and lungs, while more prolonged exposure can lead to pulmonary disease, lung inflammation and impaired pulmonary function.
Other air pollutants which are often found in urban areas include carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, lead and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon monoxide is odourless and colourless, yet poisonous to both humans and animals. Sulphur dioxide is particularly dangerous to those with existing lung or heart problems. NOx is reported to have caused the deaths of as many as 9,500 deaths each year in London alone, while inhalation of lead has been known to lead to kidney disease, reproductive problems, immune deficiencies and cardiovascular complications.
The Factors Affecting the Effect of Air Pollution
Of course, not everyone everywhere will be susceptible to the same effects of air pollution. How it affects you will depend largely upon the following factors:
- Location. Obviously, residents who live near an industrial power plant or factory will be more at risk of oil and gas emissions than others. The same applies to those in built-up urban areas as opposed to the countryside.
- Age. The very young and very old are far more vulnerable to developing health complications as a result of air pollution. Various studies have been conducted into the exact implications of poor air quality for children over recent years.
- Physical condition. Those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions will certainly be more vulnerable to exacerbating their problems or creating new ones.
- Our inhalation capacity. Partaking of strenuous exercise in a heavily polluted environment is a grave health concern and can have disastrous consequences on the human body. Fortunately, there are now several websites and apps dedicated to providing information on local and international air quality and giving recommendations about whether or not to exercise in such conditions.