air pollution – a breathing problem
July 15, 2010 | In: Nature Facts
Although we have few choices when it comes to breathing–holding your breath isn’t a very practical option even if the air around you has an ugly brownish cast or smells bad–we can make choices that minimize the amount of polluted air we breathe. We can also make lifestyle decisions that decrease our own contribution to air pollution, both outdoors and in.
We know that breathing polluted air causes at least short-term health problems. We don’t fully understand the long-term effects, but some components of air pollution have been shown to cause cancer in animals.
Respiratory problems are a major threat from breathing dirty air. Difficulty breathing, coughing, nasal stuffiness and sinus problems are common symptoms. Problems stemming from chronic respiratory disease such asthma and emphysema are exacerbated by air pollution. Pollutants also irritate mucous membranes in the nose, throat and eyes. Subtle neurotoxic effects including confusion, delayed reactions and blunting of memory have also been linked to air pollution.
Combustion of fossil fuels is responsible for most outdoor air pollution. Gas and diesel-fired vehicles, industry and home heating all contribute to combustion-generated pollution. Vehicles emit carbon monoxide, a pollutant that robs the body of oxygen, which is hard on the heart. Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, other components of vehicle exhaust, combine with sunlight to produce ozone, a gas that causes chest pain and cough when deeply inhaled.
Home heating with wood stoves and fireplaces causes fine particulate matter air pollution. Studies have shown decreased lung function in children living in areas with high volumes of wood smoke.
Stepping inside doesn’t necessarily lessen your chances of breathing polluted air. In many cases indoor air contains more pollutants than outdoor air. Indoor air pollution is caused by furnishings, household cleansing products, paints, solvents, off-gassing from clothes brought from the dry cleaners, and various products used in hobbies.
Because all of these sources of air pollution have been found to have adverse health effects, Koenig makes the following suggestions to reduce your exposure to pollutants:
* Don’t exercise outside alongside a busy traffic arterial. Try to plan your outdoor exercise at off-peak traffic hours.
* Don’t exercise outdoors when the air is stagnant. Lack of wind for a couple of days leads to stagnant conditions and build-up of pollutants.
* Avoid burning in your fireplace or wood stove, particularly in urban areas. You’ll reduce your exposure and your neighbors’.
* Hang clothes from the cleaners outdoors for several days before bringing them into the house.
* Open windows if you plan to paint or refinish wood floors indoors or whenever you use chemical compounds.
* Ignite your barbecue briquettes with an electric starter.
* When you buy new carpets or cabinets for your home, require the manufacturer to tell you the chemical makeup. You can request materials that do not emit formaldehyde or other irritants.
* Ride the bus whenever possible and reduce the air pollution generated from your automobile.