Air pollution is now claiming more lives than ever each year. Recent estimates state that nearly two million people worldwide die from breathing in “dirty” air. Along with this alarming statistic is the number of deaths caused by pollution from increases in the ozone layer, caused by humans, which amounts to 470,000 every year.
What’s causing all of these deaths? It has to do with an increase in what scientists call “fine particulate matter.” Particulate matter is the stuff that floats around in our atmosphere and can be either solid particles or liquid droplets. Particulate matter is categorized by its size because each diameter of particulate exerts a different health effect in the human body. Fine particulate matter is 2.5 microns in diameter or less and for that reason is referred to as PM2.5. Its small size allows it to more easily penetrate the respiratory system.
Once there, these tiny, microscopic particles are capable of triggering a whole host of symptoms. Your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs can become irritated. You may experience bouts of coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath. More dangerously, fine particulate could trigger an asthma attack if you’re prone to the condition and worsen symptoms associated with heart disease. For those experiencing long-term exposure to PM2.5s (which likely means anyone living in a busy city) chronic bronchitis, poor-functioning lungs, lung cancer and heart disease are all very real dangers. It is grandchildren and the elderly who are most at risk.
Fine particles can come from both outdoor and indoor sources. Cars, trucks buses—and any vehicle that emits exhaust—are the primary reason why the air we breathe can be loaded with lung-clogging PM2.5s and why a smoggy haze often hangs over a city. Industrial processes and power generating facilities are another big contributor. Unfortunately, fine particulate can travel for miles and pollute the air of a nearby town that wouldn’t normally have a high level of PM2.5s. Natural causes of PM2.5s include wildfires and volcanic eruptions. Inside your home, PM2.5s are created by smoking tobacco, cooking (such as by frying, sautéing, and broiling), burning candles or oil lamps, and operating fireplaces and fuel-burning space heaters (like kerosene heaters).
It’s easy to see that fine particulate matter is an issue that affects us all and that we are all individually responsible for lowering the amount of PM2.5s that gets into the air.
To help reduce your exposure (and the exposure of everyone around you), follow these seven suggestions:
- Recycle as much as possible. That means glass, plastic, cardboard, and aluminum.
- Conserve energy by turning off appliances when you aren’t using them. Do the same for lights.
- Plant trees to provide shade for your home in the summer. Trees also give-off life-giving oxygen.
- Buy green products produced by companies that have made an investment and taken the time to follow practices that are more beneficial to air quality and the environment.
- Wash your clothes with warm or cold water instead of hot.
- If you are buying a new car, take the opportunity to buy a “green” vehicle—one that’s efficient and low on emissions.
- Use public transit, walk, or ride your bike. When you do take the car, avoid idling in lineups or at the curbside. Get your car regularly tuned-up to reduce emissions. Consider car-pooling when a group needs to get to the same destination.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Dallas, M.E., “2 Million Deaths a Year Could be Due to Air Pollution: Study,” MedlinePlus web site, July 12, 2013; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_138656.html, last accessed July 15, 2013.
Kinver, M., “Air pollution kills millions each year, says study,” BBC News Science and Environment web site, July 15, 2013; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23315781, last accessed July 17, 2013.
“Fine Particles (PM2.5): Questions and Answers,” New York State Department of Health web site; http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/pmq_a.htm, last accessed July 19, 2013.