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What Air Pollution Does To Your Lungs

By Tunde Oguntola

Air pollution is contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution. Many of these mortalities are attributable to indoor air pollution.

Basically, household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires are common sources of air pollution. Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Outdoor and indoor air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases, which can be fatal.

Worried by the dangerous effects of greenhouse emission and air pollutions leading to respiratory disorders, the Nigerian Thoracic Society (NTS) has made a case for a holistic action plan to stem the problem.

Speaking at the Annual General and Scientific Conference, the president of the society, Prof Etete Peters, who identified various sources of greenhouse emissions including firewood and tobacco, said such pollutants were the major causes of lung problems afflicting humanity.

“The adverse effect of continuous household air pollution on lung health is a serious concern to the society”, he stressed.

Prof Peters, stated that 90 per cent of rural dwellers use firewood for domestic cooking, adding that such people are prone to the lung ailment.

He noted that, direct causes of air pollution related deaths include aggravated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases, and respiratory allergies.

On the adverse effect of air pollution to climate change, it is now generally acknowledged that the global climate is changing, as the earth becomes warmer. This change has the potential to affect human health in a number of ways, for instance by altering the geographic range and seasonality of certain infectious diseases, disturbing food-producing ecosystems, and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Stratospheric ozone depletion due to air pollution has long been recognized as a threat to human health as well as to the earth’s ecosystems.

Worldwide air pollution is responsible for large numbers of deaths and cases of respiratory disease and record more deaths per year are linked to air pollution than to automobile accidents.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2005 that “… fine particulate air pollution (PM(2.5)), causes about 3 per cent of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5 per cent of mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung, and about 1 per cent of mortality from acute respiratory infections in children under 5 years, worldwide.”

Short-term exposure at elevated concentrations can significantly contribute to heart disease. A 2011 study concluded that traffic exhaust is the single most serious preventable cause of heart attack in the general public, the cause of 7.4 per cent of all attacks.

There are many available air pollution control technologies and urban planning strategies available to reduce air pollution; however, worldwide costs of addressing the issue are high.

The most immediate method of improving air quality would be the use of bioethanol fuel, biodiesel, solar energy, and hybrid vehicle technologies.

The effects of inhaling particulate matter that have been widely studied in humans and animals include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, premature delivery, birth defects, and premature death.

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