Air Quality and Health

Clean Air: Does It Matter?

Buckle up we’re about to join Miss Frizzle on a middle school science lesson not to worry.

If you’ve ever lived in a large city where smog or air pollution was a big deal you understand right away the value of fresh air. However, most of us probably grew up in areas where pollen was occasionally an issue but nothing more dangerous than that. Clean air isn’t typically on our radar for things about which to be concerned. Of course after the pandemic most of us put a little more thought into the sniffles or cold that goes around this time of year but what does that have to do with clean air? As Miss Frizzle was fond of saying, “Seatbelts everyone!” It’s time to take a dive back into your middle school science class.

Likely you remember the basics but just for fun let’s remind ourselves about the respiratory system. We  breathe in oxygen that travels to the lungs. Blood cells are oxygenated at the lungs then pumped through the heart to the rest of our body through our arteries. Once our body uses the oxygen, the blood cells travel back through the heart to the lungs through our veins. Pretty cool! Also critical to sustaining life and the quality of the oxygen we breathe in makes a difference.

Since the United States instituted the Clean Air Act in the 1970s (1) there has been an abundance of research conducted on the air quality and air pollution around the U.S. It has a wide-range of influence and lasting effects not only in our human bodies but in our water, soil, and wildlife of all kinds. All of these systems work together and so influence one another in various ways. For now, let us focus on the air pollution and its direct link to our bodies and health. There are various types of air pollution but worse among them all is fin particle matter also known as PM or PM2.5 (2). The smaller the particle the more dangerous because those tiny particles can actually travel into our lungs, heart and even reach the bloodstream. From our brief science review above, this translates into affecting our entire bodies: predominantly our respiratory, reproductive, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Frontiers in Public Health, WHO, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency to name a few groups have all done extensive research on air pollutants and their health effects. Among a relatively healthy population the effects of air pollution include respiratory inflammation, higher risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. For other individuals whose health is compromised including the elderly, pregnant women, and children are at an even greater risk for developing more severe complications from air pollution. Risks include breast and lung cancer, COPD complications, dementia, smaller brain development in fetuses, higher risks of developing ADHD, bronchitis, and asthma to these more sensitive populations, to list a few and certainly not an exhaustive list (3). 

Another important factor found in the research is the length of exposure. There are immediate and short-term effects for people exposed briefly and far more lasting effects with chronic exposure to air pollution. Earlier I mentioned that city dwellers are probably more familiar with a breath of fresh air versus one contaminated by smog, for example, however that doesn’t exclude our rural dwellers from experiencing air pollution. Factories or large animal farms have been found to emit pollutants like ammonia gas compromising the air quality. In one study done in Washington found that Seattle’s urban area air quality was comparable to rural Washington because of these factors. (4). After just a little bit of research into air pollution it’s clear that the quality of our air has a major impact on our health.

Clean air is a critical component to living a healthy life. While many of us work outside the home, we’re still spending nearly half our days in our homes. Midwest Enviro Solutions wants to work with you to keep your home a safe space for you and your family.