5 Most Significant Diseases Caused by Air Pollution
Air pollution not only results in environmental damage but also adversely affects the health of individuals. As per the official World Health Organisation (WHO) website, air pollution kills an estimated seven million individuals globally every year. There are several diseases caused by air pollution due to the pollutants individuals breathe in. Besides causing respiratory ailments, air pollution also affects several other body parts.
Read on to gain a detailed insight into the various aspects of diseases caused by air pollution!
What Are the Top Diseases Caused Due to Air Pollution?
Illustrated below are the various diseases occurring due to air pollution:
1. Cardiovascular Diseases
The fine particulate matter in polluted air can impair the functioning of blood vessels and speeds up calcification in arteries. As per NIEHS researchers, there is a link between short-term daily exposure to nitrogen oxides and an increased risk of haemorrhagic stroke for post-menopausal women.
Exposure to Traffic-Related Air Pollution (TRAP) may lead to lowered levels of high-density lipoprotein (also known as good cholesterol), thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Moreover, as per a report from the National Toxicology Program (NTP), TRAP exposure raises a pregnant woman’s risk of serious blood pressure changes, also called hypertensive disorders. Individuals looking for “which diseases are caused by air pollution” must note that these are a leading cause of maternal and foetal illness and death, pre-term birth, and low birth weight.
2. Respiratory Diseases
Air pollution causes diseases like asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory ailments like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). All these ailments result from the massive impact of air pollutants on lung development. COPD refers to multiple diseases like emphysema and bronchitis caused due to lung damage because of air pollutants, making it difficult for an individual to breathe.
Moreover, individuals searching “which disease is caused by air pollution” must note that nitrogen oxide and particulate matter (PM) are associated with cases of chronic bronchitis.
Toxic air pollutants can lead to lower respiratory infections that can show up as pneumonia or other ailments. Children are more vulnerable to the development of acute lower respiratory tract infections because their lungs and bodies are still developing. Furthermore, emissions of soot and other pollutants have a harder impact on them compared to adults, thereby leading to several diseases caused by air pollution.
3. Heart Disease
Recent research implies that air pollution accelerates the blockage of arteries, which leads to an increased incidence of ischemic heart disease. Coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease are names of diseases caused by air pollution, which are associated with the build-up of calcium or other materials like fat within the coronary artery. This, in turn, results in blockages that prevent blood from reaching the heart and other body parts.
The WHO determined in 2013 that particle pollution can lead to lung cancer. Plus, according to the NIEHS Sister Study, other toxic airborne substances, particularly methylene chloride, which is used in paint removers and aerosol products, are also linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.
In addition to these, individuals willing to know which disease is caused by air pollution must note that occupational exposure to benzene (an industrial chemical and a component of gasoline) can result in leukaemia. Exposure to this compound can also lead to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Particulate air pollution causes strokes that occur when the blood supply to the brain is cut-off. These are one of the diseases caused by air pollution and can prove to be fatal, leading to brain damage or death.
Which Air Pollutants Lead to Diseases in the Human Body?
Polluted air consists of several air pollutants which are responsible for causing harm to the human body. Some of these toxic pollutants that contribute towards the occurrence of various diseases caused by air pollution are:
1. Particulate Matter (PM10, PM2.5)
Particulate matter (PM) contains small airborne particles such as soot, drops of liquids and dust. Most particulate matter in urban regions results from burning fossil fuels at automobiles, power plants, non-road equipment, and industrial facilities. Other sources include diesel emissions, dust and secondary particle formation from vapours and gases.
Coarse particulate matter or PM10 refers to particles that are less than 10 microns in diameter and are responsible for causing nasal and upper respiratory tract health issues. On the other hand, fine particles or PM2.5 measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter. These particles penetrate deeper into the lungs and lead to several diseases caused by air pollution in India like strokes, asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, lung disease, cancer and premature death from heart ailments. Higher PM2.5 exposure also results in impairing brain development in children.
2. Nitrogen Oxides (NO And NO2)
The transportation sector is primarily responsible for generating nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO). NOx, a combination of NO2 and NO, forms in high concentrations around roadways. It can lead to exacerbations and the development of bronchitis and asthma. It also increases the risk of heart diseases.
3. Black Carbon (BC)
Black carbon is a component of particulate matter and forms due to burning fuel, especially wood, coal and diesel. The majority of the air pollution regulations focus on PM2.5, but black carbon exposure can lead to severe health issues.
Individuals with high exposure to BC over an extended period are at higher risk of stroke and heart attack. Moreover, names of other diseases caused by air pollution like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, asthma, hypertension, and different kinds of cancer are linked with black carbon.
4. Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
The presence of sulphur dioxide in the air is mainly due to burning of fossil fuels containing sulphur. Ship engines, heavy diesel equipment, etc., burn fuel that contains sulphur.
SO2 increases susceptibility to respiratory infections, leads to eye irritation, affects the cardiovascular system and worsens asthma. When sulphur dioxide combines with water, it leads to the formation of a known contributor to deforestation and the major component of acid rain - sulphuric acid.
5. Ozone (O3)
Ozone that is high in the atmosphere provides protection from ultraviolet radiation. But ozone present at ground level acts as a severe respiratory irritant and can cause various diseases caused by air pollution.
Ozone forms in the atmosphere through reactions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Both these result from the combustion of fossil fuels. Short-term exposure to ozone leads to throat infection, chest pain, and coughing. On the other hand, long term exposure results in decreased lung function and leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Moreover, exposure to ozone can aggravate existing lung ailments.
What Are the Different Risk Factors for Diseases Caused Due to Air Pollution?
The risk factors for diseases aggravated by air pollution include geographical location and lifestyle habits.
Both outdoor and indoor air pollutants cause harm to individuals. Individuals come in contact with indoor air pollutants mainly from the usage of biomass, wood, and coal for cooking food. The levels of outdoor air pollution are worse in regions undergoing rapid industrialisation. Huge population areas having unsustainable emission policies are the highest risk areas for living.
What Are the Measures That Can Control Diseases Caused by Air Pollution?
Controlling diseases caused by air pollution implies implementing innovative control strategies like creating technology to lower emissions and instituting emissions standards.
Source control is an ideal strategy for lowering air pollution. It involves stopping pollution at the source level through several steps, such as using less polluting fuels in nature and improving the efficiency of industrial processes.
Implementing technology to lower emission levels can improve the overall quality of air. For example, using electrostatic precipitators, mechanical collectors and filters on tailpipes and scrubbers on smokestacks are some methods of limiting air pollution. Moreover, combining clean air technology innovations with economic incentives such as emissions caps and emissions trading will encourage organisations to adopt clean energy technology.
In some cases, geographic locations are also responsible for poor air quality. This is because of the proximity of a particular area to pollution-producing establishments like factories. In these cases, building owners can address the concerns of the building occupants by ensuring that HVAC systems contain quality, high-efficiency air filters. The air filters are capable of handling particles down to sub-micron size and ozone as well.
Thus, individuals must take note of the various details related to diseases caused by air pollution mentioned above. Besides this, they should also adopt preventive measures for keeping these ailments at bay.