Many of us don’t think about the day-to-day effects that air pollution may have on our health. It is something that we can be subjected to both indoors and outdoors. So how do we know what is considered safe, and when should we really heed the warnings that we see on the local news? We take for granted that the air that we breathe everyday is okay for us, but it may be good to take a refresher course in how we could make small changes in our environment to protect ourselves.
What is Air Pollution?
Air pollutants are primarily found in urban areas and can contain carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and hydrocarbons. Normally these items in the air weren’t a problem as the earth’s atmosphere was able to absorb and sanitize them.
But as we become increasingly industrialized and begin to grow further in population, the amount of pollutants becomes too concentrated for the earth to handle on its own.
If this continues unchecked it could lead to serious global health consequences for our society, not to mention the animal and plant life.
Another form of pollution that people seem to worry less about is the air that we breathe indoors. The air we breathe at home and at work can sometimes be found to be more than 100 times polluted than the air outside.
One of the major pollutants is radon-222 which is an odorless, colorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas. It happens when the air pressure inside is greater than that of gases emitted by the soil around us. A way to prevent this is to have a great filter system in the home as well as creating an airtight environment while sealing any air leaks in the home.
Sources of Air Pollution
The main sources in urban areas include transportation vehicles and residential or commercial fuel combustion, resulting from heating and cooling. Air pollution ties into our current worry about global warming, with CO2 and deforestation being the main offenders. Some pollutants actually occur in nature however when it is compounded with the man made pollutants it makes for a toxic air “cocktail.” Smog is also a danger to us and it is created when large amounts of coal and heavy oil are burned.
Sources of indoor pollution can be as simple as tobacco smoke, cooking or heating appliances, paint fumes or building materials. Especially in older homes will this be a factor. It is important to know the materials used in building your home to ensure your safety.
How is Pollution Hurting My Health?
Pollution can have both long-term and short-term effects. It also depends on the individual and the sensitivity they may have to pollutants. Children and the elderly are most susceptible to the environment they are exposed to.
Short-term effects can be irritated eyes, allergy symptoms, respiratory infections, headaches or nausea to name a few. These effects can also aggravate those who may already have a serious disease like emphysema or asthma.
Long-term effects include heart disease, chronic respiratory infections and lung cancer. It can even include damage to the nerves, brain, liver and kidneys. These effects are not only painful but they are also extremely expensive due to health care costs over a lifetime.
What can I do?
Unfortunately most of the prevention will have to come from government regulations. Our policies concerning the environment need to be tougher in order to protect our air. That being said you are able to do some things in the name of prevention.
As simple as it is, carpooling and taking public transportation can help in reducing emissions. Ride your bike to work or walk if you can. To personally control your indoor pollution, have your ventilation as well as heating and cooling systems checked for safety and efficiency. By maintaining it properly your airflow will help to eliminate toxins. Do not smoke indoors, as cigarette smoking is a huge cause of indoor air pollution.
Most of today’s air pollution is out of our hands. All we can do is to minimize the amount of toxins that we knowingly may take in. Be aware of your home and the materials it was built with. You can also support green products that were made with cleaner fuels and use them in the home. Making small changes can end up having a large effect!