Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health
Air pollution has been one of the major causes of concern for human health in the last two decades. Terminal diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ventricular hypertrophy, asthma, lung cancer, etc. have reportedly increased alarmingly in the past few years alone. These ghastly diseases are a result of humans inhaling the toxicants present in the air. What sounds even more scary is that such diseases caused by air pollution also become hereditary and are passed on to the younger generations.
Among the many deadly pollutants, the WHO has identified six primary ones that have the deadliest effects on human health. These are – carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, lead, ground-level ozone and particle pollution. The root cause of all human health problems, cardiovascular, respiratory and even psychological, these pollutants have become a major concern for human deaths in recent years. It is quite intriguing yet appalling to know that in Asia, approximately 4.3 million people die from household air pollution and 3.7 million from air pollution in the surroundings.
For instance, Bangladesh, a developing country from Asia, has been named the world’s most polluted country and Dhaka, its capital, is the second most polluted city according to the World Air Quality Report. The World Health Organization (WHO) 2016 estimates say that air pollution kills 195,000 Bangladeshi each year and Moreover, it is believed that the number has been ever growing since then!
Toxicology of Air Pollution
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the air pollutants and understand their toxicities.
- Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is popularly depicted by chemical formula CO. CO is a colorless and an odorless gas produced by fossil fuel in an improper combustion process. Poisoning caused by CO is very common. Some of CO’s known symptoms are dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Due to its affinity with oxygen, CO can also cause cardiovascular changes in the human body causing myocardial infarction.
- Sulfur Oxides
Commonly found in industrialized regions is the Sulfur Dioxide gas. Sulfur dioxide or SO2 is a highly reactive gas. SO2 is mostly emitted from fossil fuel consumption, natural volcanic activities and industrial processes. Sulfur dioxide is primarily inhaled through the mouth rather than the nose and can cause bronchospasm and mucus secretion in humans.
Lead, is popularly known by its chemical formula Pb. Pb or Lead is one of the major causes of concerns due to vehicular pollution. It is emitted from motor engines, particularly with those using petrol containing Pb tetraethyl. Pb is a toxic heavy metal and cannot be very easily excreted by a human body once consumed. Thus, it can affect the kidneys, liver, nervous system especially those of infants and children.
- Ground-level Ozone
Ozone or O3 is a colorless gas which is the major constituent of the atmosphere. It is predominantly produced as a result of chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and VOCs emitted from natural sources or human activities. O3 increases the risk of respiratory diseases in humans, primarily asthma.
Respiratory, cardiovascular, ophthalmologic, dermatologic, neuropsychiatric, hematologic, immunologic, and reproductive systems are mainly affected due to the toxic effects of exposure to air pollutants. In the long term it also induces a variety of cancers due to molecular and cell toxicity.
Respiratory system is most likely to be affected as most of the pollutants enter the body through the airways and children and elderly people as well as patients are most vulnerable who suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Respiratory tracts are damaged due to air pollutants, especially PMs and other respirable chemicals such as dust, O3, and benzene.
Recommended Strategies to reduce the air pollution
- Standardization of vehicle’s fuel
An alternative to reduce the air pollution is standardization of the fuel or finding a new source of energy for motor engines. As a great part of emission comes from vehicle exhaust. Instead of petrol and other fossil fuels, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) and alcohol can also be used as other clean sources of energy.
- Improving public transportation systems
People can use subways (metro), trams, and electrical bus routes. This will help in reducing the costs for the people and is an optimal solution for lowering air pollution. It will be beneficial for both the people and governments to gain profits from reducing air contaminants in the long term.
- Imposing penalties for polluting industries
By imposing penalties and applying more taxes on automobiles, especially on those older than 20 years, the government can distinguish between dirty and clean vehicles. It can implement low tax policy for clean technologies and and producers who adhere to environmental standards.
- Extensive media campaign
These campaigns can help in increasing public awareness about air quality, environmental, and public health issues.
Want to learn more on, how pollution has been harming the environment? What steps are being taken to tackle the climate change issue? Head over to this article by CEAI on Net Zero Carbon.