The effects of exposure do more than damage our lungs; air pollution can have a negative impact on all major organs in our body. It’s hard to miss the correlation between cities with the highest pollution levels and populations with the highest asthma rates. The ill effects of pollution on our environment, and more specifically on human health, have garnered a lot of attention recently–and not in a good way.
Air pollution, which is often the result of modern living, is also posing a significant risk to global health. Respiratory diseases and cardiovascular health are at severe risk, while even prenatal exposure is threatening the health and livelihood of future generations.
THE INVISIBLE THREAT
WHAT IS AIR POLLUTION?
At first thought, you might envision thick smog coming out of factory pipe stacks. And that’s certainly one type of air pollution. But that’s not the only risk to your health. Air pollution includes any solid or aerosol particulate that remains in the air.
Common Causes of Air Pollution:
- Emissions from Transportation (Private Motor Vehicles & Fleet Vehicles)
- Fossil Fuels (e.g., using coal to heat a building)
- Industrialisation (e.g., use of fossil fuels to power manufacturing processes)
- Power Generation (e.g., coal-powered plants)
- Agriculture (e.g., nitrogen-based fertilizers on crops)
Whether you live in a city or on a farm, there are sources of air pollution that can have damaging effects on our health now and as we age.
THE HEALTH IMPACT
HEALTH RISKS OF AIR POLLUTION EXPOSURE
While respiratory ailments are the most common, the effects of air pollution can have many devastating effects on our health. The development of respiratory diseases like COPD or emphysema is the direct result of excessive air pollution exposure. However, additional studies have found a link between air pollution exposure and more severe respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. Air pollution can harm the respiratory system, directly impacting lung development or lung function. Exposure can also impair blood vessels, accelerating cardiovascular disease and increasing the individual risk of a heart attack.
CONTROL THE AIR YOU BREATHE
Once upon a time, we only paid attention to the obvious sources of exposure. If you spent sixteen hours per day in a mine, you were expected to develop ‘black lung.’ But now that science has advanced and we know a little more about the world around us, we can easily identify common sources of air pollution and offer appropriate levels of mitigation.
For example, urban dwellers who live particularly close to major highways are at the most significant risk of emissions from constant fossil-fuel-based traffic. Certain occupations, like industrial workers or landfill workers, are at an increased risk of occupational exposure. Additionally, rural farmers who routinely work in the fields are at an increased risk for chemical pollutant exposure.
When direct exposure or prolonged exposure is unavoidable, consider wearing a high quality, well fitted face mask to filter out particles from the air that enters your lungs.
WHY FACE MASKS SHOULD BE PART OF YOUR SOLUTION
Air pollution is all around us. It’s a big problem, and a face mask seems like a small solution that pales in comparison. Still, there are many situations in which a properly fitted face mask can do a lot of good. And now that face masks are widely accepted, many people are wearing them for protection from all kinds of things that float in the air–from COVID-19 to allergy-inducing pollen.
If you routinely walk or bike in an urban area that is prone to commuter pollution, a face mask can be a brilliant idea. However, keep in mind that wearing a mask should not provide a false sense of security. Be vigilant to remember why you’re wearing your mask and limit your exposure to necessary transit times only.
Wearing a certified filtration mask with a comfortable fit, tight seal and high breathability is a scalable and simple solution to control the air you breathe.