Ambient air pollution is one of the world’s largest health and environmental problems. The air quality we breathe is important for our health. Indeed, even short -term exposure to air pollution can damage our health. So let’s find out what causes ambient air pollution and how it affects our health.
Ambient Air Pollution FAQs: How Much Do You Know?
What Does Ambient Air Pollution Mean?
The air we breathe is all around us and is what we call ambient air, or atmosphere. Hence, we desirably want it to contain no contaminants or pollutants, which it does not, at least usually. Firstly, this air mainly includes an inert gas that is harmless to us, nitrogen (78%). Secondly, our air contains a gas we could not live without for more than five minutes, oxygen (21%). Finally, the remaining components of our air are include lesser components. Namely, water vapor and a combination of other gases: argon, carbon dioxide, helium, hydrogen, and methane (all combined roughly comprise 1%).
Ambient air pollution is, in short, the potentially harmful pollutants or toxins that are emitted into the air. The fine particulate matter released from industries and vehicles, for example, has a significant impact on human health.
What Causes Ambient Air Pollution?
Air pollution mainly originates from human-made sources but can also come from natural sources.
The primary sources of air pollution from human activities include:
- Fuel combustion – motor vehicles
- Power generation – coal/oil power plants
- Industrial plants – manufacturing, farming, factories, oil refineries, mines
- Waste incineration – agricultural and municipal
- Residential – heating homes, cooking, lighting
The primary natural sources of air pollution include:
- Forest fires
- Dust storms
- Volcanic eruptions
In arid regions, there are fewer anthropogenic pollutions. However, the contribution of human-made pollutants far exceeds natural sources on a global level. Some atmospheric conditions can cause air pollution to travel long distances, so people can be affected far away from sources of pollution despite living in less polluted areas.
What Are the Types of Ambient Air Pollutants and How Do They Affect Our Health?
Particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5)
Source – made up of tiny particles like soot and dust from the burning of fossil fuels.
Health risks include:
- PM10 – nasal and upper respiratory tract health problems.
- PM 2.5 – because they are small enough to pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream, these pose the most significant health risk. For example, heart attacks, strokes, asthma, bronchitis, premature death from heart ailments, lung disease, cancer, and impaired infant brain development are potential consequences of PM 2.5.
Black carbon (BC)
Source – comes from burning fuels.
Health risks include – asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attacks, hypertension, stroke, and a variety of types of cancer.
Nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2)
Source – primarily by the transportation sector.
Health risks include – asthma, bronchitis, heart disease.
Source – smog – burning fossil fuels.
Health risks include – chest pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coughing, decreased lung function, respiratory irritation, and throat irritation. Additionally, ozone can aggravate existing lung diseases.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
Source – the burning of fossil fuels that contain sulfur.
Health risks include – asthma, eye irritation, respiratory infections, detrimental to the cardiovascular system.
What Are Ambient Air Pollution Health Impacts?
Around the world, nine out of 10 people breathe unhealthy air.
For instance, according to the CDC “estimates that assume no change in regulatory controls or population characteristics have ranged from 1,000 to 4,300 additional premature deaths nationally per year by 2050 from combined ozone and particle health effects.”
Moreover, the Environmental Defence Find (EDF) reports that air pollution is the world’s largest environmental risk for premature death. The most vulnerable are the elderly and people with existing conditions that are exasperated due to poor air quality.
Some studies suggest that the worst affected areas have a higher risk than smoking a pack of cigarettes each day.
How Can A Cough Tracker Help?
Coughing is usually the first bodily response of an irritant in the airways. Thus, monitoring your cough using AI technology within a cough tracker means you can take action sooner. Your doctor can use the data to help diagnose the reason for your cough and then treat symptoms. For instance, if your cough is related to ambient air pollution, they may suggest ways to limit exposure and improve lung health.
- Staying indoors during peak times.
- Wearing a face mask to limit outdoor exposure.
- Cleaning indoor air with filters.
- Use of respirators.
Ambient air pollution affects us all. Therefore, global cooperation to address all sources of air pollution is extremely important. Above all, we need to attack this “invisible threat” and improve our air quality for better health.
- Air Pollution, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Air Pollution, World Health Organization
- Environmental and Health Impacts of Air Pollution: A Review, NCBI