Tips to Improve Air Quality for Lung Health

Anna Suarez

Lung health and air quality are directly linked. Environmental contaminants can come from a variety of sources, including automobiles and heavy industry. Paying attention to the quality of the air at home and work can be a great way to protect long-term health!

How Does Air Quality Affect Health?

The air we breathe can contain vast quantities of particles and chemicals that are often microscopic. While it’s easy to see certain contaminants like smoke emitted from a tailpipe or a chimney, other sources of pollution can be harder to identify. Air pollution includes a variety of chemicals, including particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other volatile organic compounds. Each can cause health problems relating to the lungs and even other organs. Asthma, heart attacks, stroke, and other respiratory complaints can be the result of exposure to pollution. And to put these risks in perspective, the World Health Organization estimates that each year air pollution claims 7 million lives worldwide.

Air pollution is also a major concern when you are indoors. The average person will spend 90% of their time in enclosed spaces like cars and more often buildings, which means that occupants will have prolonged exposure to any pollutants that may be present. The impact that a particular pollutant has is primarily based on its concentration in the air, and the length of time that a person was exposed to that air. These pollutants can encompass allergens like pollen, unpleasant odors, and mold spores, but can also include dangerous toxins such as asbestos fibers and lead dust. Any of these particulates can be swept into the air by human activity or circulated through a building’s HVAC system.

What are Some Ways to Improve Air Quality?

There are many strategies that can be employed to decrease the risks to human health. One of the first things that should be done to mitigate indoor air concerns is to remove the source of the pollution. This means removing any toxic materials, even those that may be part of the building itself. Some materials that were once common in construction are now known hazards. This could include materials like asbestos and lead that should only be handled by certified professionals due to the consequences that these materials can have on human health. Asbestos, for example, is a lesser-known cause of lung cancer, which is the most common form of cancer worldwide when both men and women are considered. Additionally, asbestos exposure can result in a very rare cancer that forms in the linings around various organs and has a shockingly low life expectancy of less than two years on average. Utilizing abatement professionals helps diminish these health risks and ensures that striving for safer indoor environments doesn’t cause additional harm.

In addition to removal, improving ventilation is another way to reduce the health impact of pollutants. Introducing outdoor air, which can actually be cleaner than indoor air, can help reduce the concentration of the pollutants and degree of exposure for occupants. This can be achieved by upgrading a building’s HVAC system, or even by opening windows and taking advantage of natural ventilation methods (e.g. wind).

Protecting lung health is a multifaceted issue that goes far beyond eliminating the use of tobacco products or even proper exercise. Environmental factors that occur at a large scale have a direct impact on individual health. The quality of the air around us is one factor that requires solutions at a societal scale. And even though we may not always notice, air quality is constantly influencing public health.

About: Anna Suarez is a health advocate working to raise awareness about the intersection of the environment and health.



References

  1. World Health Organization. 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution.http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/
  2. Klepeis et al. 2001. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants.
  3. World Cancer Research Fund International. Worldwide Data. http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/worldwide-data
  4. Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. Mesothelioma Life Expectancy. https://www.maacenter.org/mesothelioma/prognosis/mesothelioma-life-expectancy/
  5. Environmental Protection Agency. The Inside Story: a guide to indoor air quality. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality

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