Air pollution

Global air pollution coutesy of

In addition to what we consume through eating and drinking, there are poisons in the air. Although air quality reports are now common, like weather reports, there is relatively little being done to stop the pollution because it operates within the interests of economy and GDP (GNP in US). The Environmental Protection Agency identifies just four main hazards of polluted air: bad ozone levels, particle pollution, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Bad ozone is formed in the Earth’s lower atmosphere when pollutants emitted by industrial processes or cars react chemically to sunlight. They form a gas with three oxygen molecules and have several negative effects on people, especially those who are active outdoors during the summer months or with existing respiratory problems. These are: irritation of respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, uncomfortable chest, reduced lung function especially through vigorous exercise, aggravated asthma, increased sensitivity to allergens and respiratory infections, inflamed and damaged lung lining and scarred lung tissue.

A similar picture emerges with particle pollution in the air. This includes a mixture of solids and liquid droplets. Some particles are emitted directly; others are formed in the atmosphere when other pollutants react. Particles come in a wide range of sizes. Those less than 10 micrometers in diameter are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems. Ten micrometers is smaller than the width of a single human hair.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a colourless, reactive gas, is produced when sulphur-containing fuels such as coal and oil are burned. Sources include power plants and industrial boilers. Generally, the highest levels of sulphur dioxide are near large industrial complexes.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless gas formed when the carbon in fuels does not completely burn. Vehicle exhaust contributes roughly 60 percent of all carbon monoxide emissions nationwide, and up to 95 percent in cities. Other sources include fuel combustion in industrial processes and natural sources such as wildfires. Carbon monoxide levels typically are highest during cold weather, because cold temperatures make combustion less complete and cause inversions that trap pollutants close to the ground.

Tobacco use in all forms is responsible for about 30% of all cancer deaths in developed countries. Passive smoking also carries risks. Unchecked, smoking will cause more than 10 million deaths from cancer (predominantly lung cancer) in the next decade. Tobacco smoking, due to the advertising of unscrupulous multinationals, is still increasing in the Third World. In China smoking increased from 500 billion cigarettes in 1978 to 1,700 billion in 1992. Africa shows a similar picture.

Why is it that only some people get lung cancer from smoking? Genetic predisposition and other lifestyle factors contribute to this. It has been estimated that the average city dweller inhales the equivalent of several cigarettes a day in the form of air pollution. A person who gets regular exercise, eats wisely and exercises in fresh air, but still smokes a few roll-ups, may be less at risk to tobacco induced cancer than a city dweller who drives everywhere and eats ready meals, but doesn’t smoke. It is an indication that there are many factors at work in insulting our cells. Degenerative disease is complex disease and there are unique variables with every case.

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