Updated Sept 1, 2023—The Most Common Diseases and Health Conditions Caused by Air Pollution And What We Can Do To Protect Ourselves
Air pollution is a serious threat to public health, not only because of its impact on the environment in which we live. When you breathe heavily polluted air, you might notice the immediate effects: watering or burning eyes, an itchy nose and throat, coughing and sneezing, maybe even dizziness or migraines. However, the long-term effects of breathing polluted air, especially if the pollution is not severe, which forces you to move away from the source, can lead to the development of severe diseases and even shorten lifespan.
Some of the most common diseases and health conditions in the world are caused by or are exacerbated by air pollution. Many of these are respiratory conditions, due to damage caused by breathing in harmful pollutants, but other areas of the body can be affected by poor outdoor and indoor air quality as well, including the heart.
5 Diseases Linked to Air Pollution
Air pollution-related diseases are responsible for millions of deaths and hospitalizations every year. In fact, the World Health Organization has suggested that as many as one in eight deaths worldwide is due to conditions linked to air pollution. Research has also found that COVID-19 infections are more serious and more likely to be deadly in patients exposed to high levels of air pollution.
The following diseases are the most common conditions linked to air pollution:
Ischemic Heart Disease
Ischemic heart disease is a condition in which the heart does not receive enough blood, often during periods of exertion, and is caused by plaque buildup within coronary arteries which inhibits adequate blood flow. Arterial plaque is made of cholesterol, fatty substances, and minerals such as calcium that are naturally found within the body. Ischemic heart disease can be prevented and managed through lifestyle changes, but research has shown that the process of plaque buildup is accelerated by air pollution.
A stroke may occur when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Strokes often lead to death or varying types of brain damage, depending on the location of the stroke within the brain. This could lead to permanent numbness, trouble with mobility, difficulties with speech, and more. Exposure to particulate air pollution has been linked to increased likelihood of stroke, especially in people with existing heart conditions.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)
COPD is the collective name for a group of diseases that make breathing difficult. Examples of these conditions are bronchitis and emphysema, which can both be directly caused by lung tissue damage as a result of breathing in polluted air.
Lung cancer involves the uncontrolled division of lung cells. While many people associate lung cancer with smoking, breathing in polluted air, especially particulate matter pollution (PM1 and PM2.5), is also strongly associated with the development of lung cancer.
Acute Lower Respiratory Infections in Children
Lower respiratory infections refer to infections occurring in the respiratory system below the larynx (voice box). These conditions can include pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis among countless other diseases. Lower respiratory infections are a common cause of childhood mortality globally. Children’s developing lungs and immune systems are especially vulnerable to developing these infections, especially when exposed to soot or other dangerous pollutants.
What Air Pollutants Harm Human Health?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified several harmful pollutants as “criteria pollutants.” Criteria pollutants include ozone, particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and lead, which are abundant in the lower atmosphere and therefore likely to do damage to human lungs.
Ozone is an essential component of the upper atmosphere that protects the surface of the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. In fact, the ozone layer is essential for supporting life on earth. However, ozone formed at ground level is an unstable, toxic pollutant that can damage the respiratory system. Ozone is one of the key ingredients in smog, and is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs, or hydrocarbons) interact with sunlight and heat.
Particulate matter, PM1 and PM2.5, refers to tiny particles of various substances that can penetrate the lungs, especially PM1 and PM2.5 and the bloodstream and do significant damage to different parts of the body, making it one of the main sources of pollution-linked diseases. Particulate matter can come from a variety of sources, but the most common is the combustion of fossil fuels.
Burning fossil fuels also releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which damage the respiratory system and worsen existing lung and heart conditions. When fossil fuel combustion is incomplete, as is the case with most internal combustion engines, carbon monoxide is released. Carbon monoxide is an ingredient of car exhaust (from internal combustion engines). The colorless, odorless gas prevents people from breathing in enough oxygen, which can quickly lead to nausea, confusion, and death (where there is not enough air circulation).
Lead can damage the nervous system, including the brain, as well as the kidneys. Health Canada states, “Lead (CASRN 7439-92-1) is a naturally occurring metal. It enters the environment through both natural and industrial processes. Lead persists in the environment and can accumulate over time. Lead is present in bedrock, soils, sediments and bodies of water. Lead released from industrial emissions can be a major source of environmental contamination, especially near smelters or refineries. Lead is used in some consumer products and can be found in many foods.” In Canada , in blood-lead levels have been greatly reduced, but lead remains a threat to human health worldwide.
What Can We Do to Reduce the Risk of Air Pollution-Related Diseases?
Risk factors for air pollution-related diseases include lifestyle habits and geographical location. Indoor and outdoor pollutants both pose a significant risk to human health. Outdoor air pollution is usually worse in areas that are currently undergoing industrialization.
Government regulations recommend that source control, or stopping pollution at its source, by improving the efficiency of industrial processes or using cleaner-burning fuels, is the best strategy for reducing emissions.
Reducing emissions and pollution is a complex, long-term, international issue that requires the adoption of appropriate policies and incentives across the globe. However, there are also steps that can be taken to protect public health from air pollution at a local level.
In industrial settings, using effective air filtration can minimize pollution output from production processes. Pollution management experts from Camfil recommend using the Hi-Flo ES, which consumes the least energy of any bag filter on the market. Another option would be the CityCarb I which combines particle filtration with molecular filtration to help control ozone, nitrogen dioxide and other harmful gases.
In commercial settings, upgrading building HVAC filtration will protect building inhabitants from both indoor and outdoor pollution. Camfil provides a range of filters for commercial applications to suit different existing HVAC systems and meet different needs. Clean air solutions include the City M in-room air cleaner, which delivers True HEPA-grade filtration independently of the building’s HVAC system, and the 30/30 Dual 9 panel filter, which is the longest-lasting filter of its kind on the market.
Consult your local air filtration expert to discover which solution is right for your needs.
About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions
For more than sixty years, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. We firmly believe that the best solutions for our customers are the best solutions for our planet, too. That’s why every step of the way – from design to delivery and across the product life cycle – we consider the impact of what we do on people and on the world around us. Through a fresh approach to problem-solving, innovative design, precise process control, and a strong customer focus we aim to conserve more, use less and find better ways – so we can all breathe easier.
The Camfil Group is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and has 33 manufacturing sites, six R&D centers, local sales offices in 30 countries, and about 4,800 employees and growing. We proudly serve and support customers in a wide variety of industries and in communities across the world. To discover how Camfil Canada air filtration experts can help you to protect people, processes and the environment, visit our blog for recent articles.
Health Canada, www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/environmental-contaminants/human-biomonitoring-resources/lead-canadians.html
Environmental Protection Agency
Camfil Canada Inc.
F: Follow Camfil Canada on Facebook
L: Follow Camfil Canada on LinkedIn
T: Follow Camfil Canada on Twitter