Air Pollution: Greatest Threat Facing Mankind? – Part 2

Air pollution - environmental issues and concepts word cloud illustration. Word collage concept.

In part 1 of this blog, we discussed what you needed to know about indoor air quality along with the 6 most common air pollutants. If you missed it, you can read it here.

What Diseases are caused by Air Pollution?

Improved methodologies for measuring data has created a better understanding of how health is affected by airborne particles and gases. World Health Organization data factors both indoor and outdoor air pollution, which results in 4.3 million and 3.7 million deaths respectively, for a combined mortality rate of 8 million.

Diseases that result from pollution are ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and acute lower respiratory infection in children. Looking at outdoor air pollution, heart disease and stroke combined account for a staggering 80% of deaths. With indoor air pollution, heart disease and stroke combine to make up 60% of deaths, while COPD and acute lower respiratory infections in children become more concerning.

Those are startling numbers especially when considering indoor air as the greater health threat than outdoor air. It does however correlate with EPA research that states indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, with some factors placing that number at 100 time greater. In certain parts of the world, particularly in low-income nations where people use coal or wood burning stoves, the likelihood of contracting a pollution related disease is far greater than in developed nations where modern gas and electric stoves, along with properly ventilated heating systems limiting exposure to harmful particles and gases.

How Can We Improve Air Quality?                                                                      

Improved data collection methods and continued monitoring of human and environmental health is the driving force of environmental policy change. According to the EPA, in the U.S., the implementation of programs designed to improve health, longevity, the quality of life, and emissions of air toxins (187 pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects) declined 62 percent from 1990 to 2008. Yet it remains important to recognize that 75 million people in the U.S. live in counties with pollution levels above national ambient air quality standards. Likewise, 200,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution in the U.S. each year.

It is important for individuals to be informed about air quality where they live. If you reside in the United States, is a good resource for monitoring air quality and taking steps to limit outdoor exposure in poor conditions. This includes but is not limited to closing windows, less time spent outdoors or reducing heavy exertion, and turning your car’s air conditioning system to recirculate to limit exposure to exhaust gases and other harmful airborne particles.

Research done by the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection agency, among others, reminds us why clean air is crucial to living well. As environmental policies improve, outdoor air quality will improve. Until that happens, we can at least take steps to improve indoor air quality. That is why is committed to meeting the needs of homes and businesses with quality air filtration products.

We also provide numerous resources on our Filtered Files blog discussing Air quality FactsBenefits of Air Purifiers, and Information about Air Filters.

Air Pollution: Greatest Threat Facing Mankind?

Air pollution - environmental issues and concepts word cloud illustration. Word collage concept.

Imagine a tree-lined horizon where a smoke stack rises into the sky with grey smoke pouring out over all the greenery. This is a view I saw when playing outside my family’s house as a child. There is an eerie appreciation to be gained at the sight of nature being pushed aside for industry that provides the products and services we consider essential to everyday life. So we might consider pollution to be an unfortunate but seemingly necessary by-product of human progress. The effects of which have been wide and far reaching since the start of the industrial revolution during the 1700s up through much of the 20th century as factory output was unregulated and its impact on human health went unchecked for a long time.

Over the last half-century our understanding of air quality’s affect on human health, wildlife, and climate patterns has improved. Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in America seek to control emissions to protect human health by dictating safe levels of outdoor and indoor pollution. Still, there remains controversy regarding the actual costs associated with the creation of more strict pollution standards versus the realized human and environmental benefits.

But there is more to it than just cost. If we view global morality statistics we can estimate 56 million people die each year from various causes. According to a 2012 World Health Organization report, 1-in-7 (8 million) yearly deaths are directly attributed to air pollution. This marks air pollution as one of the single greatest environmental risk factors that humans currently face.

What do we Need to Know About Air Quality?

Nations are free to enact their own environmental laws to limit or reduce the output of harmful particles and gases. In developed nations with economic stability and greater access to innovative technologies, industry can often exist while limiting environmental impact. But for all our advancements into renewable energy and zero emissions, we live in an era where many nations are now undergoing a sort of industrial revolution of their own. Explosive growth has benefited many once small economies primarily in India and eastern Asia. It is in these regions where leaders struggle to balance economic demand with air quality and the health of their citizens. Knowing what we know now it might seem prudent to demand other nations fall in line with our environmental polices, however no country may impose such rules on another. As is, there are global frameworks in place designed to promote new environmental rules and regulations that won’t infringe too greatly on economic development.

The World Health Organization writes that a lack of awareness of the international evidence from both developed and developing countries linking ambient air pollution exposure and health is under-appreciated, and the potential solutions that can be taken to improve air quality would greatly benefit public health and reduce burdens on local populations and governments.

To understand the problem of air pollution, we need to examine a few different elements and their impact on human health. In America, The Environmental Protection Agency lists 6 common air pollutants that pose the greatest harm to human and environmental health. They are refereed to as criteria air pollutants because the EPA uses science-based guidelines for setting permissible levels of each. The sources of these pollutants primarily result from vehicle emissions and fossil fuel power plants.

Ozone (O3) – A chemical reaction created when oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) react in the presence of sunlight. This is not the same as the ozone layer around Earth. Asthma is often the result of unsafe ozone levels.

Particulate Matter (PM) – A complex mixture of small particles and liquid droplets that persist in the form of nitrates and suflates, organic chemicals, metals, soil, and dust. The concern over these particles are due to their small size. A particle whose diameter is less than 10 micrometers can pass through the throat and nose to enter the lungs.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) – Emitted during combustion processes, the colorless and odorless gas is common in urban areas where a greater number of cars reside. CO reduces the bodies ability to transport oxygen to the heart and brain. High CO levels can result in death.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) – A group of reactive gasses known as oxides of nitrogen, or nitrogen oxides (NOx) that is commonly referred to as smog and is associated with acid rain. NO2 contributes to ground-level ozone formation, and fine particle pollution, both of which are linked to adverse respiratory problems.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) – Highly reactive gasses known as oxides of sulfur that are primarily a product of fossil fuel combustion at power plants and industrial facilities. While unsafe to inhale, the Center for Science in the Public Interest lists SO2 as a safe food preservative.

Lead (Pb) – Naturally found in the environment and manufactured products, its emission from the transportation sector has declined 95 percent between 1980 and 1999. In that same period lead in air levels decreased 94 percent. Effects on humans range from high blood pressure and immune disorders, to neurological and behavioral problems often seen in infants and young children.

In part 2 of this blog, we’ll discuss the diseases that are caused by air pollution, and ways we can improve air quality in our lives for a healthier and happier future. Read part 2 here.


Fight Obesity with Cleaner Air

Air Pollution Linked to ObesityA recent study by Ohio State researchers has concluded that air pollution may be one of the causes of obesity. A few months ago, we wrote about the link between soot and diabetes; Since obesity often leads to diabetes, this finding comes as no surprise.

The study found that young mice exposed to air pollution had higher blood sugar levels, larger fat cells, and more fat cells in their abdominal area than a control group of young mice on the same diet, who were not exposed to air pollution. Inflammation and changes in fat cells both increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Even more frightening is the finding that air pollution may also increase the risk of autism…

At first glance, the results of this study seem to discount personal responsibility as a factor. After all, we can try to eat healthy and exercise, but if air pollution turns out to be the main culprit, then in the end, there’s not much we can do, right?


The majority of Americans spend most of their time indoors. Protecting the air you breathe starts in the home and office environments. You can help fight obesity by eating healthy, exercising, and changing your AC filters regularly. Make sure you use high-efficiency furnace filters to capture those really small particles circulating through your HVAC system. The best place to buy air filters? Why, Filters Fast, of course. 😉