Air Pollution And Health: What We Don’t Know CAN Hurt Us!

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A rapidly growing body of research is showing that air pollution may be hazardous to our health, even in small quantities. Studies, conducted all over the world, over the course of the past couple of decades, suggest that air pollutants are having a variety of detrimental effects on our physical well being. The health risks associated with pollution range from respiratory issues to alterations in gestational development, and 3.7 million deaths are caused by outdoor air pollution annually.

Fracking Near Schools!?

Last month, the Moms Clean Air Force, Women for a Healthy Environment, and the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project met to discuss the risks associated with fracking near schools. The process is known to emit methane gas as a byproduct of oil extraction. However, regulations do not currently exist regarding how close to schools and playgrounds drilling can occur. Their collective concern is that air pollution, which has been established to be the largest environmental health risk we currently face, is more detrimental to children than adults. Moreover, there are safety issues that come with having drilling sites in close proximity to schools, such as the threat of well explosions. Long-term objectives of the groups include educating the public on the hazards posed and to facilitate regulations regarding the location of fracking sites.

Fracking Scary

Pollution and Brain Aging

Stroke, a division of the American Heart Association, recently published results from a study out of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which noted correlations between pollution, cerebrovascular disorders, and increased risk of stroke. Recent findings also depict a link between air pollution and premature brain aging. The study included 943 male and female participants over the age of 60, and utilized satellite data to determine levels of air pollution. Tests revealed that individuals exposed to the highest levels of pollution were 46% more likely to suffer a type of stroke known as a “silent strokeâ€ than individuals with the lowest levels of exposure.

City Polllution

Incinerator Plants Ignoring Regulations

This problem is not isolated to the United States. A mother in China, Ren Rui, was recently forced to take on a waste incineration plant after her son experienced severe respiratory issues that she associated with the plant’s emissions. While not officially linked, since 2012, 30 people residing in the nearby neighborhood have suffered respiratory issues, some resulting in cancer. Rui’s six-year-old son is one of these individuals. He has undergone nine operations since he began coughing up blood at age three, spurring an understandable fear that the malodorous emissions are toxic. The incinerators, which are used to destroy garbage and medical waste, never underwent the approval process necessary for operation.


Does this mean all their law-breaking practices no longer matter? What about my son’s health problems?”

-Ren Rui, 2015 interview 


Although the plant was shut down in 2013 after it was discovered that sewage was not being properly treated prior to incineration and the impact of the medical waste incineration was not appropriately assessed, it reopened after getting approval to do so. The goal here should be to make emissions data public knowledge and to hold facilities accountable for neglecting to adhere to treatment requirements.

Beijing’s Pollution Nightmare

During the Beijing Olympics, in 2008, the Chinese government implemented drastic programs to reduce the infamously high levels of air pollution in the city. This provided an opportunity to gather data on the potential consequences of pollution; with a focus on the effect it had on birth weight, and determine whether or not the damage was reversible. For 6-7 weeks vehicle restrictions were imposed, construction projects were postponed, and numerous factories were temporarily shut down. These actions, along with cloud seeding to prompt rainfall, decreased sulfur dioxide by 60%, carbon monoxide levels by 48%, and nitrogen dioxide by 43%. Studies conducted during this time showed decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and an increase in the size of babies born to mothers who were in their 8th month of pregnancy during the time of lowered pollution, alluding to the negative impact pollution has on this phase of development which is vital to the central, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems, as well as physical growth.

Ship Emissions Are Killing Us. Seriously.

Ship engine emissions are also a large contributor to the air pollution that occurs globally, and are associated with lung cancer and heart disease. Known to release heavy metals, sulphur, and hydrocarbons, little has been done to regulate this facet of the industry. In fact, not only are emissions currently unregulated, despite being responsible for nearly 20% of worldwide fuel consumption, they are not equitably taxed.


“Shipping emissions are an invisible killer that cause lung cancer and heart disease, a new study has found, but researchers say the 60,000 deaths they cause each year could be significantly cut by exhaust filtration devices.”

-Samuel White, June 10, 2015


The consequences of these harmful emissions extend beyond the immediate health risks posed to humans. There are also significant long-term concerns associated with the impact they will have on biodiversity as well as soil and water quality. However, switching to low sulfur fuels and installing exhaust filtration systems could curb much of this pollution.

Ship Emissions

WHO?

In May, the World Health Organization addressed the potential health impacts of air pollution and the necessity of increasing awareness and establishing interagency cooperation at both the local and national level, particularly regarding policy-making. Delegates discussed the importance of developing an air-quality monitoring system and health registries for tracking pollution related health issues. The topic, which was being debated for the first time, established a need for action to be taken to reduce air pollution, through the promotion of cleaner living and improvements in communication.

This is an issue that affects us all, and is without political or geographical borders. We need to take into account the health and environmental risks associated with this issue, and respond accordingly by holding companies accountable for what they are releasing into the air we breathe. It is necessary to incentivize organizations to take steps to reduce emissions. Finally, emissions data should be public record; allowing individuals to educate themselves on known pollutants in their area.

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Lindsy and her ten-year-old lab, Eleanor Rigby Fitzgerald, moved to Seattle two years ago from Tucson, Arizona. They chose Seattle because they heard that's where they kept all the good coffee - plus Ella learned about grass. L. De Mello likes books, music, movies, running, and being outdoors as much as possible.