Polluted air is not only black clouds emanating from industrial pipes, smog enveloping cities, or exhaust gases with a suffocating smell. Pollution can be completely invisible and imperceptible, but at the same time create a huge danger to human health.
Studies show that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. It is because of him that every year about 7 million people die prematurely from heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, diseases of the respiratory system. Bad ecology takes more lives than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
The air we breathe is a mixture of gases, the main components of which are nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. In addition to them, neon, helium, krypton, argon, methane and hydrogen are also present in some quantities. Despite the fact that 100 liters of oxygen in the air contains about 21 liters, about 78 liters is nitrogen, the rest is other gases, O2 is the main thing for all living things on the planet.
It would be a mistake to assume that the composition of the air is an invariable characteristic. It may differ significantly in different regions of the planet. And when its composition contains substances that should not have been, or the concentration of some gases is too high, they talk about pollution.
Atmospheric pollutants are usually divided into 2 categories:
- natural (appear after forest fires, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, etc.);
- artificial (the result of human activity).
Among the most common pollutants , researchers call:
- ground-level ozone;
- carbon monoxide;
- sulfur dioxide;
- nitrogen dioxide;
- solid particles.
Importantly, when scientists analyzed the quality of the environment in 1970, polluted air was primarily considered a threat to the respiratory system. But in the last decade, other diseases have been included in this list, including:
- diabetes mellitus;
- disorders of the immune, reproductive and nervous systems.
And in 2013, WHO classified polluted air as carcinogens, that is, it is one of the factors causing cancer. In particular, scientific studies show that the toxic substances contained in it increase the risk of breast cancer in women, malignant degeneration of lung cells, as well as the appearance of leukemia. But there are other equally dangerous “side effects” of regular inhalation of polluted air. Thus, its effect on pregnant women increases the risk of having a child with underweight, autism, neural tube defects, lower IQ scores. Elderly people living in polluted areas have an increased risk of early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Short-term effects on the body
Even if polluted air is inhaled for a short time, the human body will feel its negative impact. And the respiratory system suffers first in this case. Pollutants, settling on the respiratory tract, can cause respiratory diseases, cause a decrease in lung function, as well as exacerbation of asthma in people suffering from this disease. In addition, if the air contains a high concentration of sulfur dioxide, even with short-term exposure, it can cause irritation of the skin, respiratory tract and eye mucosa.
Effects of long-term exposure
Much more severe consequences arise if you breathe polluted air constantly. Based on the results of long-term studies, scientists have come to the conclusion that it can cause a variety of diseases:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (according to WHO, 43% of COPD cases are caused by polluted air);
- lung cancer (the cause of 29% of all cases, this indicator is particularly influenced by solid particles, which together with inhaled gases reach the lower respiratory tract, causing damage to them);
- cardiovascular diseases (studies have shown that people living in regions with high levels of pollution are more at risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack).
In addition, according to a study, the results of which were published in 2019, polluted air increases the risk of premature birth in women.
What types of pollution affect the body
Experts have studied how the human body is affected by different types of pollutants contained in the air. And one of the most dangerous were solid particles.
When they talk about solid particles contained in the air, first of all they mean soot and dust. Most of them are the product of coal combustion at industrial facilities, and they are also contained in exhaust gases. Large solid particles (up to 10 microns in size) can damage the nasal cavity and upper respiratory tract. Small (up to 2.5 microns in diameter) penetrate into the lungs and provoke heart attacks, strokes, bronchitis, asthma, as well as premature death due to oncological, cardiovascular and pulmonological diseases. In addition, studies show that air with a high content of fine solid particles can negatively affect the development of the brain in babies.
Smog is also dangerous for asthmatics, which mainly consists of so-called harmful ground-level ozone.
If the concentration of carbon monoxide increases excessively in the composition of the air, it can cause symptoms identical to carbon monoxide poisoning. In such cases, there is weakness, dizziness, vomiting, headache, confusion.
Sulfur dioxide– a by-product of the combustion of oil and coal, is also one of the main pollutants. Inhalation of this substance increases the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. And also such air causes irritation of the mucous membrane of the eyes.
Nitrogen oxides enter the air as part of the exhaust gases. The effect of this substance on a person can cause coughing, wheezing, throat irritation, headaches, fever. This pollutant is dangerous for people with asthma, and also increases the risk of cardiac diseases.
It is quite difficult for a resident of megacities to protect themselves from inhaling polluted air. But in order to improve the condition of the body at least a little, to cleanse it of toxins, it is worth getting out of the city as often as possible and spending time in nature.