…and how to take control of your air quality
Worldwide air pollution is a popular topic of debate. While policymakers may not agree on the best way to decrease emissions and improve outdoor air quality, one thing is for certain: something needs to be done. Learning more about the state of global air quality and what is being done to improve it can help you figure out the best way for you to get involved. Below, take a closer look at what goes into the air that we breathe with ten air pollution facts that you cannot ignore.
1. 91% of the world’s population lives in places with air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits
80% of urban areas in the world that monitor air pollution expose their citizens to harmful levels of air pollution, according to the WHO. For people living in urban areas, this decline in air quality can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and respiratory diseases such as asthma.
The general public can work to minimize the air pollution in their cities by taking advantage of mass transit, walking or cycling instead of driving, and switching to renewable energy sources wherever possible.
2. India and China face the brunt of public health consequences caused by air pollution
Together, India and China account for 51% of all deaths caused by ambient air pollution, according to the 2018 State of Global Air report. These numbers may seem bleak, but it is important to consider that China has decreased air pollution levels significantly over the last four years. Though India has not made the same strides as China, the government has taken steps to reduce emissions that have already seen some success.
3. 111 million people in the US live in counties that do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards
Though air pollution in the United States is decreasing, there are still many areas that do not meet air quality standards for the following pollutants:
- Particulate matter
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Sulfur dioxide
Do you live in one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the US? If you are worried about outdoor air pollution in your area, you can protect yourself and your family by staying indoors on bad air quality days, adding an air purifier to your home and cleaning regularly to reduce the amount of outdoor pollutants that linger in your home.
4. Particulate matter is the top contributor to outdoor air pollution
Particulate matter (PM) is a term used to describe microscopic particles in the air that we breathe. When these particles are small enough, they can travel deep into the respiratory system and contribute to a variety of health problems.
Another top contributor to outdoor air pollution is ozone. It is one of the main components of smog and is formed when certain pollutants, including those found in vehicle emissions and VOCs, react with sunlight.
Find tips on how to reduce the amount of particulate matter, ozone and other pollutants that you release into the atmosphere on the AirNow website.
5. Indoor air pollution may be 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air pollution
According to the EPA, levels of indoor air pollution are typically far worse than outdoor air pollution levels. Common indoor pollutants include mold spores, pet dander, dust mites and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Regular contact with these pollutants may cause headaches, coughing, allergic reactions, and irritation in the eyes, nose, throat and skin.
Fortunately, there are many proven ways to decrease the concentration of airborne pollutants indoors. You can do this by increasing ventilation, cleaning thoroughly and regularly, installing an air filter and properly maintaining your HVAC system.
6. At least one allergen is present in over 90% of US homes
In a 2017 study of more than 7,000 US bedrooms, over 99% were found to have at least one allergen present. Homes with pets and pests, as well as older and rental homes, mobile homes and homes located in rural areas were more likely to have elevated levels of indoor allergens (Salo, et. al, 2018).’
For people living in homes that are more likely to harbor airborne allergens, there are steps that you can take to manage the level of allergens in your home. These include grooming your pet regularly, frequent dusting and controlling the humidity levels in your home.
7. Air pollution can be especially harmful to children, elderly adults and those with asthma
Certain parts of the population are more sensitive to the presence of airborne pollutants and should take special care to minimize their exposure.
- Children are more vulnerable to air pollution exposure because their organs and immune systems are still developing (Buka et a., 2006).
- According to the EPA, air pollution may aggravate existing health conditions in older adults, whose immune systems are less able to compensate for exposure to pollutants.
- Exposure to airborne pollutants may exacerbate existing symptoms in people with respiratory conditions such as asthma and lung disease.
These people should take special care to monitor outdoor air quality levels using sites such as AirNow.gov and avoid outdoor activities on bad air quality days.
8. Two billion children around the world are exposed to severe outdoor urban air pollution
Long-term exposure to outdoor air pollution can significantly impede healthy brain development in children, according to a 2018 study (D’Angiulli, 2018). Because outdoor air pollution can play a big role in indoor air quality, children that attend school near busy roads are more at risk of exposure to airborne pollutants.
Additionally, the diesel exhaust emitted by school buses can be especially harmful to students because of its high levels of VOCs. Because of this, the EPA has started a Clean School Bus program aimed at reducing emissions from older diesel school buses.
9. Household sources may contribute up to one-half of VOC emissions
Household compounds, including pesticides, cleaning agents, adhesives and personal care products, may contribute to one-half of all VOC emissions. This means that household products have the potential to affect outdoor air quality just as much as transportation-related sources such as vehicle exhaust (McDonald, et. al, 2018).
Up to 40% of the chemicals in many household cleaning and personal care products eventually end up in the air. To minimize the impact that consumer product use has on the environment, try switching to low- or no- VOC products where possible and limiting your use of products known to contain VOCs.
10. Fossil fuel combustion is the number one contributor to air pollution
Fossil fuels are used as a source of energy in many of our everyday processes. Fortunately, the global conversation on increasing energy efficiency has many organizations and individuals looking for ways to decrease fossil fuel consumption. By switching to renewable energy sources and limiting the amount of gasoline and electricity that you consume on a daily basis, you can help reduce the amount of air pollution caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.
For most people, there is no doubt about the importance of global air pollution concerns. Time and time again, scientists show the impact that airborne particles can have on our health. The answers to our air quality problems are complex and require teamwork on a global scale, but one thing is for sure—the more people that work on a problem, the bigger chance they have of finding a solution. For now, you can start by focusing on improving the air around your home and decreasing the amount of pollution caused by your actions.