One thing people among many first world countries tend to take for granted is something so simple and something often overlooked, the air. Air quality is only one of the many environmental dangers global citizens have to deal with on a daily basis. In fact, a staggering 7 million people each year across the global will fall terminally ill due to health complications associated with air pollution. According to the World Health Organization nearly 9 out of 10 people will come into contact with high levels of air pollution every year. With nearly 43 percent of deaths attributed to lung cancer, February is an important month, National Lung Cancer Prevention month in fact, a great time to understand the simple dangers that can have a lasting effect on you and your community.
Smog is a serious air pollutant that originally stemmed from the combination of fog and smoke in the air. Within the last half century, other serious emissions such as vehicle pollutants, open burning of fuels, and certain industrial pollutants now contribute to smog as well. Most known for its presence in big cities, smog presents a number of issues to the human body. Exposure to smog has the ability to bring on both short term and long term health complications. Problems due to poor ozone concentration includes the shortness of breath, dizziness, asthma attacks, cold and even pneumonia. More severe and long term resulting from ongoing exposure to smog includes pulmonary diseases like lung cancer and a variety of other respiratory related complications.
Unfortunately, it’s the active people who seem to be at greater risk. Those who enjoy biking, running, rowing anything that involves the outdoors puts you at a greater risk of being exposed to smog, especially in larger urban environments. Those summer days where it’s uncomfortably warm with a low wind is when smog is most prominent on the ground level. Adults who have children that often play outside should be more weary when the the ozone concentrations are “unhealthy for sensitive groups” paying close attention to the air quality index and the ppbv status reading: 105-124 ppbv.
The most dangerous cities to date, can mostly be found in the Middle East and Asia. Cities in the United States notorious for smog are big urban areas; California currently houses more than 8 of the top 10 smoggiest cities in the U.S.
Particulate Matter (PM) also known as particulate pollution happens when tiny pieces of both solids or liquid stay in the air that we breathe. Particles include dirt, dust, soot, smoke and a variety of others. Typically these micro particles are so small that PM is invisible to the naked eye. It’s important to note that size does vary, particles that are less than 10 microns or 2.5 micrometres diameter pose great threats due to their ability to infiltrate different part of the body's major organs. Bigger particles are more difficult to penetrate the body. Our natural defense systems come into play by filtering, sneezing, or coughing these foreign particles out of our bodies. Those who are at the greatest risk of sickness from PM are senior citizens, especially those who already suffer from respiratory issues. Infants who haven’t fully developed their lungs should remain indoors and avoid all contact with any high pollution areas. Lastly, anyone no matter the age who already suffers from any chronic lung disease such as emphysema, COPD, or asthma should be extra consciousness of their habitat.
While there’s a huge emphasis on the importance of air quality in your cities, and community it’s important to not overlook places like your own home, your workplace and the air you breathe in everyday. Asbestos is a term that groups together 6 different types of organic minerals formed in fibrous bundles, a well known toxin that lingers in unsettled air and has deadly health effects. The deadly truth of asbestos was discovered in the early 1980s. Medical science brought attention to what was previously known as a miracle mineral, framing asbestos as the carcinogenic death threat that it was. Asbestos was contributing to vast numbers of occupational related illnesses, something later defined as mesothelioma, an incurable rare cancer. Asbestos is often inhaled unknowingly, these microscopic traces become disturbed and then airborne, once inside the human body, these fibers lodge themselves tightly into various tissues. Symptoms of this cancer do not present in some cases for nearly 50 years.
Before the dangers of asbestos were known, asbestos was a popular additive in a variety of products, mainly building supplies. Because of the resilient properties of asbestos, this fiber made its way into many houses and buildings for decades. It is important to note asbestos is not harmful when intact, but when unknowingly disturbed countless people can be impacted by this threat. Within the last decade the DIY and home renovation craze has truly taken over, could this be putting people at a heightened danger? Even the slightest break of asbestos in walls, tiles and insulation can release microscopic fibers and become a serious danger. Most DIYers are uninformed of the variety of shapes and uses asbestos took form, this becomes a domino effect when improper disposal occurs, and self-exposure happens with little to no education on the matter. Asbestos can remain airborne and therefore dangerous for up to 72 hours. During the summer of 2018 a steam pipe burst in New York City leaving nearly 250 residential units having to evacuate immediately due to concerns related to asbestos exposure.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a very dangerous toxin that infiltrates the air unknowingly due to it’s odorless, tasteless, and colorless properties. CO is the result of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, or gas. Wood burning stoves, small engines, and other appliances emit CO and present a deadly threat when improperly maintenanced.
CO exposure is most prominent throughout the winter months due to increased use of heat across buildings and communities. Other machines known to omit CO include clothing dryers, conventional ovens, stove tops, space heaters, furnaces and water heating systems. All of these common appliances can leak CO if used too often, installed incorrectly, or after being poorly maintained.
Breathing CO into the lungs is often fatal, especially after prolonged exposure. When too much CO is in the air and inhaled into the lungs, your body becomes confused and replaces the oxygen fed to your red blood cells with the deadly CO. Symptoms of CO poisoning can show in a variety of different ways. Common symptoms include confusion, headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea and vomiting. If you start experiencing any of these issues it’s important to seek medical attention immediately as CO poisoning acts quickly and silently and in severe cases can be fatal.
National Lung Cancer Prevention
Every February we recognize National Lung Cancer Prevention Month, by putting an emphasis on the toxins that we potentially come into contact with. Educating ourselves and advocating for others experiencing these illnesses contributes to a healthier environment and a more mindful community. Knowledge is power and the catalyst to positively impact our lungs and overall public health. Knowing about the risks associated with breathing in harsh hazards like smog, asbestos, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide and understanding what preventative measures can be taken can attribute to a long and healthy life for years to come.