How can air pollution hurt my health?
Air pollution can affect our health in many ways with both short-term and
long-term effects. Different groups of individuals are affected by air pollution
in different ways. Some individuals are much more sensitive to pollutants than
are others. Young children and elderly people often suffer more from the effects
of air pollution. People with health problems such as asthma, heart and lung
disease may also suffer more when the air is polluted. The extent to which an
individual is harmed by air pollution usually depends on the total exposure to
the damaging chemicals, i.e., the duration of exposure and the concentration of
the chemicals must be taken into account.
Examples of short-term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat,
and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Other
symptoms can include headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions. Short-term air
pollution can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and
emphysema. In the great "Smog Disaster" in London in 1952, four thousand people
died in a few days due to the high concentrations of pollution.
Long-term health effects can include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer,
heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys.
Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and
may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly. It is estimated
that half a million people die prematurely every year in the United States as a
result of smoking cigarettes.
Research into the health effects of air pollution is ongoing. Medical conditions
arising from air pollution can be very expensive. Healthcare costs, lost
productivity in the workplace, and human welfare impacts cost billions of
dollars each year. Additional information on the health effects of air pollution
is available from the
Natural Resources Defense Council. A short article on the health effects of
ozone (a major component of smog) is available from the