Health : what to do and how to protect yourself? Notions and advice.
Polluted air: know everything! How does pollution fog, soot, greenhouse gases and other major air pollutants affect the planet and our health?
Polluted air: what is air pollution?
Air pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the air. They are harmful to human health and to the planet as a whole.
National environmental protection agencies around the world are authorized to protect public health. Indeed, regulations relating to the emission of harmful air pollutants are constantly made. Do they have a positive effect?
What are the causes of air pollution?
Energy consumption and production is where most of the air pollution comes from. Burning fossil fuels releases gases and chemicals into the air. And in a particularly destructive feedback loop, air pollution contributes to climate change. Before that, it exacerbates the latter.
Air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide and methane raises the temperature of the earth. Another type of air pollution is then aggravated by this increased heat. Smog forms when the weather is warmer and there is more ultraviolet radiation. The effect? Well, there is a clear increase in flooding. There is also an increase in pollen due to a longer season and higher production.
Polluted air: effects of air pollution
Although people have made progress in the past 40 years and more by improving air quality in much of the world, climate change will make it harder to meet pollution standards in the future. These are designed to protect health, but the industry provides life for billions of people. The economic balance is difficult to make but crutial!
Smog or pollution fog and soot
These two types of air pollution are the most widespread. Smog or ground-level ozone occurs when emissions from the burning of fossil fuels react with sunlight.
Soot or particulate matter is made up of tiny particles of chemicals. The tiny particles come from the earth, smoke, dust or allergens, in the form of gases or solids. They are transported through the air.
The Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act states, "In many parts of the United States, pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70%." The sources of smog and soot are similar. "Both come from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines.
The effects of pollution fog and soot
These two types of air pollution come from anything that burns fossil fuels like coal, gas or natural gas. Even the smallest airborne particles, whether in the form of gases or solids, are particularly dangerous. They can enter the lungs and the bloodstream. So they can make bronchitis worse, cause heart attacks and even speed up death.
Smog can irritate the eyes and throat and also damage the lungs. This is especially true for people who work or exercise outdoors, children and the elderly. It’s even worse for people with asthma or allergies. These additional pollutants only intensify their symptoms and can trigger asthma attacks.
Dangerous air pollutants
They are either fatal or pose serious health risks, even in small amounts. Almost 200 are regulated by law. Some of the most common are mercury, lead, dioxins and benzene.
These emissions are also most often emitted during the combustion of gas or coal, during incineration or, in the case of benzene, present in gasoline. Benzene, classified as a carcinogen, may cause short-term eye, skin and lung irritation and long-term blood problems.
Dioxins, more generally present in food but also present in small amounts in polluted air, can affect the liver in the short term and damage the immune, nervous and endocrine systems, as well as reproductive functions.
Lead in large amounts can damage children's brains and kidneys, and even in small amounts it can affect children's IQ and learning ability. As for mercury, it affects the central nervous system.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are toxic components of exhaust fumes and smoke from forest fires. In large quantities, they have been linked to eye and lung irritation, blood and liver problems, and even cancer.
By trapping Earth’s heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases cause warmer temperatures and all the hallmarks of climate change. As an example, we will mention sea level rise and more extreme weather conditions. But there are also heat-related deaths and the increasing transmission of infectious diseases, such as Lyme.
Carbon dioxide and methane are the biggest contributors to total greenhouse gas emissions. They come from the combustion of fossil fuels and from natural and industrial sources. This includes the large quantities that are released during oil and gas drilling. Methane is much more powerful. It is therefore also very destructive.
Another class of greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons, are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in their ability to trap heat. In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed an agreement to reduce the use of these chemicals. These are used in particular in air conditioners and refrigerators.
Pollen and mold
Mold and allergens from trees, weeds and grass are also transported through the air. They are exacerbated by climate change and can be dangerous for health. It is air pollution although it is less directly related to human actions.
When homes, schools or businesses experience water damage, mold can grow and produce allergenic air pollutants. Exposure to mold can precipitate asthma attacks or an allergic response. Some molds can even produce toxins that would be dangerous for anyone to inhale.
Pollen allergies are getting worse due to climate change. Studies show that the more plants that produce carbon dioxide pollen, especially ragweed, the more they grow and the more pollen they produce. Climate change is also extending the pollen production season. Some studies are starting to suggest that ragweed pollen itself could become a more potent allergen.
How to help reduce air pollution?
The less fuel we burn, the better we can do to reduce polluted air and the harmful effects of climate change. Let's make good transportation choices. When we can, let's walk! Let's ride a bike or take public transportation.
For driving, choose cars that get better kilometers per gallon of gasoline or choose an electric car. We can all also explore options from our electricity supplier. Perhaps we could ask that our electricity be supplied by wind or solar energy.
How to protect our health?
When the weather report indicates high levels of pollution, it may be useful to limit the time spent outdoors. Going for a walk or jogging when the air is polluted is not a good idea. Generally, ozone levels tend to be lower in the morning.
When we exercise outdoors, let's stay as far away from busy roads as possible. Then take a shower and wash our clothes to remove fine particles.
If the air quality is bad, let's stay inside with the windows closed. Let's wear sunscreen. When ultraviolet radiation passes through the weakened ozone layer, it can cause skin damage and skin cancer.
Regularly check the air quality
Before going out or practicing outdoor activities, you should get into the habit of checking the air quality index. In this way, taking precautions to protect health is more obvious. The media often broadcast smog warnings. Let's follow them!
As a precaution, keep your medication with you. If you have heart or breathing problems, take your medication with you when you go outside. Follow your doctor's instructions correctly to control your symptoms.
Avoid areas where the air is polluted
When you are physically active, you breathe deeper and faster. In this way, we are more in contact with atmospheric pollutants. Therefore, it is recommended to limit physical activity and reduce its intensity in in a polluted area. What are these areas?
These are the busy roads where there is a lot of traffic regularly. There are also industrialized areas and residential areas during winter nights. Many residents of these neighborhoods operate wood stoves and fireplaces that emit pollutants into the air.
Contribute to the reduction of outdoor air pollution
-Use public transportation methods that help reduce the amount of pollutants in the air.
-Walk or cycle (when the air quality is good).
-Limit the use of fireplaces and wood stoves in winter, as such devices contribute a lot to smog during the cold season. Be sure to maintain these devices properly.
-Maintain good indoor air quality.
– Pay attention to the air quality inside each house. It could also be harmful to health.
Certain outdoor pollutants, such as fine particles and ozone, can also enter your home. Other pollutants may already be present, including:
-Smoke from chimneys and wood stoves.
-Mold and other contaminants associated with excessive humidity.
-Volatile organic compounds, mainly formaldehyde, from household products, such as paints and varnishes.
– Construction materials, such as particle board or plywood.
-Carbon monoxide emitted by certain devices and vehicles during the combustion of propane, wood, fuel, etc.
-Radon, an odorless and colorless radioactive gas that can seep into buildings.
-Asbestos from brittle or damaged materials that have been sawn, sanded, etc.
How to ensure good air quality at home?
To reduce or eliminate the main sources of pollutants, we can adopt some good habits.
-Do not smoke at home.
– Resolve water infiltration problems to prevent the growth of mold.
-Opt for healthy and environmentally friendly household products and materials.
-Limit the use of wood appliances.
-Install a carbon monoxide detector and avoid using fuel-powered devices (gasoline, propane, etc.) indoors.
-Measure the radon concentration at home with a dosimeter.
Simple gestures never to forget to do!
Opening your windows regularly is an inexpensive and very effective measure. However, you should know how to keep windows closed when the outdoor air quality is poor. Keeping windows closed is necessary during periods of extreme cold.
Also, make sure to always turn on the hood while cooking. The hood must be ventilated outside.
Turn on the bathroom fan every time someone takes a shower or bath.
If the ventilation system is central (also called an air exchanger), it must be operated in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
Finally, all appliances installed in the home must be maintained regularly. Thus, they will be more effective. If the devices mentioned above are not part of your home appliances, consider getting them. It is important to pay attention to the air we breathe!