Health Effects of Air Pollution

Health Effects of Air Pollution


Air pollution is contagion of outdoor or indoor environment by any physical, chemical or biological agent that alters the atmosphere’s natural characteristics (Hudak, 2013). Industrial facilities, combustion devices, forest fires, and motor vehicles are common air pollution causes. Research shows indoor and outdoor pollutants can cause devastating respiratory disorders. Pollutants that are of primary concern to public health include ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Air pollution threatens the health of all living things, humans included. “Air pollution creates acid rain and smog, causes respiratory diseases and cancer, agent of global warming, and reduces the atmosphere of the ozone layer” (Colls, 2002). This paper seeks to discuss air pollution as a global concern addressed by major governmental and non-governmental agencies and stakeholders. The points to ponder in this paper will be the primary causes, effects, and solutions to air pollution as discussed by environmental bodies.


Environmental authorities that address air pollution have classified it into sections: invisible air pollution and visible air pollution. Both categories involve biological, physical, and chemical modification of natural air in the atmosphere. Such alteration takes place when smoke, harmful gases or dust fuses into the atmosphere making it difficult for plants, humans, and animals to survive. In a narrow way, air pollution could be looked at as a substance which can potentially contaminate the atmosphere. According to the European Environment Agency, “about 90 % of dwellers in European Union cities are exposed to air pollutants that are harmful to their health” (Phalen, 2013).

Besides the concerns of health outlined in the environmental reports, another common environmental problem is eutrophication which threatens biodiversity. Eutrophication is an extensive environmental issue affecting the ecosystems of European countries. However, European Environment Agency document that emission of pollutants which contain nitrogen have reduced. For example, ammonia and nitrogen oxide emission have decreased by 7 percent and 27 percent from 2002 respectively. This is not enough reduction of emissions as was initially expected. Measures to decrease nitrogen emissions must be employed in order to address concerns of eutrophication (Liang, 2013).

On statistics and facts on air pollution, the World Health Organization (WHO) is clear on the populations and health effects of given regions. World Health Organization (WHO) documents that air pollution affects children than adults because to the polluted air concentration in their system which depends on body size. According to environmental reports by European Environmental Agency, it is possible to save about 161 billion Euros in a year when deaths resulting from air pollution are reduced. World Health Organization (WHO) rates India as the world’s poorest air quality nation. The organization also document that in the world’s large cities, motors are the major sources of fatal pollutants causing lung damage. The pollutants from motors make 80 percent of all the fatal pollutants. An average adult takes in about 3000 gallons of air on a daily basis, so we can only imagine the amount of polluted air taken in (Kennes & Veiga, 2013)).

Reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) also show that there are as many deaths resulting from car accidents as there are deaths due to air pollution (1.3 million deaths per year). The reports also indicate that exhausts from motors cause carbon monoxide emissions in America to as high as 60 percent of the total pollution. In large cities, these statistics could be as high as 90 percent. In the United States, more than 800 million gallons of gas are used each week end per year in lawn mowers. This produces about 5 percent of the total air pollution. In Europe, the largest contributor of air pollution is road transport. More than 5000 people die each year out of heart attacks and lung cancer resulting from exhaust fumes. An example of a case study and worst events caused by air pollution is the “1952s Great Smog of London that saw the deaths of over 8000 people” (Vallero, 2008).

Causes of air pollution

Environmental authorities such as European Environment Agency have addressed causes of air pollution. Reports say that air pollution is caused when particulate matter fills the atmosphere. The mega source is fumes from vehicle exhaust pipes. The emission of carbon monoxide forms the largest pollutant within America. This is formed with the burning of fossil fuels. It is colorless, poisonous, and odorless. This makes it difficult to notice. Pollutants that originate from factories such as toxic and chemical pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide) form acid rain when gets in touch with water. When filters are not regularly changed in industries, air conditioners and manufacturing plant, dirt accumulates and pollutants spread to pollute the air we breathe. Environmental agencies have also placed concerns in using chemicals in households with inadequate ventilation. This results in indoor air pollution. “Dust storms, volcanoes, and forest fires are known to be agents of natural air pollution” (Vallero, 2008).

Effects of air pollution

Air pollution can be defined as introduction of foreign substances in the environment, damaging it natural ecological balance. These foreign substances include; biological materials, chemicals, particulates among other harmful materials (Lave & Seskin, 2013). These substances cause harm to our environment, and to the life that inhabits it when released in the atmosphere. Air pollution effects include; respiratory and heart problems, acidic rain and global warming (Dop, 1986). These effects can be kept in check by practices like; energy conservation, air cleaning in our industries and use of clean energy resources.

Respiratory and heart problems remains the most devastating effects of air pollution. This is because; it causes multiple health conditions. According to World Health Organization, air pollution causes conditions like; asthma, heart diseases, respiratory infections as well as long cancer (Colls, 2002). This is because air pollution causes devastating effects like coughing, wheezing, breathing difficulties as well as other cardiac and respiratory effects. This is because air filled with particulate matter induces arteries hardening and triggers heart attack or cardiac arrhythmia. “Contaminated air limits the defenses of the body and reduces the capacity of the body to fight infections in the respiratory tract” (Viana, 2013).

This means that individuals suffering from these conditions can only be subjected to health care as their only resolution. Others become regular hospitals’ visitors while others result to increased medication. Sometimes these effects are so grave that an individual suffering from air pollution effects even experience premature deaths. WHO estimates that more than 2.3 million people succumb to effects of air pollution on a yearly basis (Hudak, 2013). They also specified that more than 1.5 million of these deaths are mainly as a result of indoor pollution. Indoor pollution can be caused by substances like paintings in the houses, radon gas that is mostly found in the lower sections of our houses and cleaning materials among others.

This means that we are not safe even in our houses, and we cannot run away from health effects brought about by air pollution. For example, a recent research shows that more than 500,000 Americans succumb to cardiopulmonary diseases yearly, which is a componential effect of air pollution. Generally, environmental agencies including the World Health Organization have documented causes and effects of air pollution. It is therefore our concern and responsibility to curb this vice. Many lives are being lost. The facts and statistics of air pollution as discussed in the earlier paragraphs indicate the number of annual deaths and diseases that humans are at risk of contracting. For example, air pollution results into respiratory disorders such as asthma, tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and lung cancer. Air pollution also impairs central nervous system due to poisoning by carbon monoxide. This results in suffocation due to the struggle for hemoglobin. Other than health and respiratory effects, air pollution also leads to formation of acidic rain (Viana, 2013). This acidic rain also affects mankind directly and indirectly. When industrial, vehicles as other environmental emissions are released in the air; they carry harmful substances with them. This is especially during fossils burning, where harmful gases like sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides are released in the air (Dop, 1986).

These substances mix with rain droplets to form acidic rain, which in return causes damage to crops, Lake Habitat as well as humans and other animals. Research also shows that this acidic rain also damages buildings, metal structures and monuments. Therefore, it is necessary that solutions are implemented to prevent air pollution. Aquatic life is destroyed when this water rains on the lake or even when it rains in highlands, only for the water to flow to these water bodies. This can cause animals to migrate to other intoxicated habitat as some essential species that maintain the food chain may be wiped out completely. This means that the species that rely on the wiped out population may be forced to migrate to other areas for survival and in most cases they die too affecting a whole food chain.

On the susceptibility of individuals, World Health Organization documents that those engaged in outdoor exercises are more vulnerable to the adverse impacts of air pollution as such exercises involve faster and deeper breathing. Smog causes harmful effects to health of both animals and humans. Scientific studies show that dolphins’ black lung disorder is because of the high carbon particles concentration in air. Additionally, hydrogen ions in the acid rain damages crops, trees, induces metal corrosions, and harm aquatic animals. Environmental agencies warn that those suffering from heart diseases, older people and children are more vulnerable and sensitive to air pollution and its adverse effects (Vallero, 2008). There is also the fact that acidic rain causes harm to the crops. This is either by raining in their leaves, damaging them, or infiltrating the ground changing the soil ph, which later affects the crops (Lave & Seskin, 2013). Animals are affected by this acidic rain when it infiltrates the ground, affecting those who live in the soil, as well as those who feed on crops whose chemistry has been altered by the rain.

Therefore, this means that even human beings are directly and indirectly affected by acidic rain. For instance, when human beings feed on crops that had absorbed these chemicals during their growth, they can be transmitted to them, causing health problems later in their bodies (Colls, 2002). This acidic rain also causes harmful effects to vegetation that would help in curbing other natural disasters. In this regard, air pollution also leads to global warming. Global warming happens when there is destruction of the ozone layer by the harmful substances we release in the air (Viana, 2013). This increases the world’s temperatures resulting into devastating effects like melting icebergs, increased sea level as well as displacement of different species. Ozone layer has seen depletion and the ultraviolet radiations may possibly reach the earth to cause damage to human immune system, skin diseases, and eye conditions. Greenhouse effect together with global warming are significant concerns brought about by air pollution. In fact, other species have been pushed to near extinction as their habitats have become destroyed by unfavorable temperatures emanating from global warming (Hudak, 2013). These unstable temperatures have also contributed to natural disasters like tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes and wild fires among others.


Environmentalists and experts have keenly observed the trend of air pollution and documented their viewpoints on the same. Environmental authorities assert that air pollution is basically an unwanted change in the chemical, physical, or biological features of air in the atmosphere. This is a common assertion by many researchers. However, environmental bodies have gone ahead to discuss the pollutants and warned humanity against their usage. Some of these chemicals and substances listed as major air pollutants are: oxides of nitrogen, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, excess carbon dioxide, asbestos dust, lead compounds, radioactive rays, pollens, and cement dust. These pollutants may originate from any sources ranging from natural sources to man-made or artificial sources (Viana, 2013).


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