Six common air pollutants are present in the air we breathe every moment of the day. It’s the result of the fact that society uses combustion-based engines for transportation, industries that burn combustibles as part of their operations, and even the natural environment. Common air pollutants affect everyone differently with some people suffering more than others. Following is a look at the most common types, where they come from, and how they affect your ability to breathe and stay healthy.
The Six Most Common Air Pollutants
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified and classified the following six pollutants as “criteria” air pollutants due to their impact on human health. They include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Nitrogen oxides
- Ground ozone
- Particulate matter
- Sulfur dioxide
These pollutants have both mechanical and natural sources. People who live in regions that are prone to wildfires or experience regular volcanic activity are going to have higher levels of exposure to common air quality pollutants. However, natural causes of air pollutants are minor in comparison to the amount of pollution created by industrial and combustion-based activities.
Heat and power generation require fuel sources for burning in order to create warmth and electricity. These industries, even though they are highly regulated by the EPA, still emit a large amount of particulate matter into the atmosphere. The same goes for vehicles that use combustion engines for their operation. Combustion engines have become much more efficient at burning gasoline and emitting fewer contaminants via the catalytic converter. However, areas of high density rely on vehicles for transportation, which means there are a concentrated number of vehicles emitting pollutants into the air.
How Common Air Quality Pollutants Affects Quality of Life
Chances are good that you breathe in one or many of these pollutants on a daily basis, but you might not feel the effects in the short term. Exposure over time can affect healthy lungs and increase your potential for developing a respiratory disease. Children are at a higher risk of developing asthma during their developmental years, something that will stay with them for the rest of their life.
One common air pollutant, ground ozone, has been found to cause respiratory inflammation after 6 to 7 hours of exposure. The most common form of air pollution, particulate matter, can be fine enough to get into the bloodstream after being inhaled. The occasional exposure to these and other contaminants has a lower risk of permanent damage, although there may be physical effects in the form of difficulty breathing and increased blood pressure. However, an individual with a cardiac condition, known or otherwise, is at higher risk of experiencing a cardiac event due to the increased blood pressure. Someone who suffers from asthma or COPD may experience a worsening of their condition.
Long-term exposure to these pollutants increases the mortality rate among individuals along with a rise in childhood asthma. Adolescents who are genetically predisposed to the disease are more likely to develop asthma, even if they didn’t exhibit symptoms in their childhood. Newborns who are born into communities with heavy pollution have been found to have lower birth weight.
Protecting Yourself from Common Air Quality Pollutants
The days of smog clouding major urban areas and fouling the environment are in the past. Major strides have been made to combat air quality pollution, and the EPA has been effective at improving regulations. Air pollution is always a concern, however, and individuals need to be proactive to limit exposure. Steps you can take include:
- Minimize outdoor activities on days with high pollution indexes
- Don’t exercise or walk near heavily traveled roadways
- Consume foods or supplements that help combat inflammation
- Wear an air quality monitor
- Purchase an indoor air purifier fan or air scrubber
Air pollution impacts quality of life and the environment. Understanding what the common air quality pollutants are and how they impact health is crucial to your longevity. It’s an issue that people need to be aware of and take steps to minimize their exposure whenever possible.