The Effects of Pollution on Health

According to CNN, a study has shown that pollution was linked to 9 million deaths worldwide in 2015, which represents one in six deaths. This alarming number really highlights that we need to take action in order to limit the damages that air pollution is inflicting the Earth and its population.
A research from the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health states that air pollution is the biggest contributor to early death. Air pollution has significantly worsened in the previous years and this has led to a major increase in health problems such as aggravated cardiovascular and respiratory illness, a loss of lung capacity and an increased risk of stroke. Unlike water pollution for example, which can be avoided by people in developed countries who have the right tools to clean water, air pollution affects each and every individual on earth, as we all breathe the same air.
Breathing is indeed the main route of exposure to outdoor pollutants. Of course, air pollution affects the elderly, children and people with an already existing condition more violently, but it does not spare healthy people, who may develop heart or lungs diseases as a result of a strong exposure to pollution. The main outdoor air pollutants are fine particles, ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Ozone is the main component of urban smog, as it comes from automobile exhausts and power plant emissions, and its inhalation can lead to respiratory difficulties. Although fine particles are present in a smaller quantity, they are not less harmful than ozone. As a matter of fact, the very small size of these particles is what makes them dangerous, as they bypass the body’s natural defenses and can get deep into your lungs.
Pollution impacts the poor more than the rest of the population and the following number shows this very clearly: 92% of pollution-related casualties occur among people living in low- and middle-income countries. Have you ever been to a developing or underdeveloped country and seen the color of the water they drink or bathe in? Along with air pollution, water pollution is a big contributor to health issues. Indeed, water is vital to our survival and if people do not have a proper water cleaning system in place, they have no other choice but to use the polluted water they have access to.
According to the World Health Organization, many of the world’s megacities’ air quality levels exceed the WHO’s guidelines by more than 5 times and as a result, 90% of the planet breathes polluted air. Nonetheless, the chief of the WHO noted that “more and more governments increase commitments to monitor and reduce air pollution as well as more global action from the health sector and other sectors like transport, housing and energy”, which is a good news. The protection of the environment and the fight against pollution have indeed become popular topics on the political stage.
The younger generations are more aware of the importance to take action before it is too late. An example of this rising awareness around the protection of the environment is the WHO’s first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, which will take place between October 30th and November 1st 2018. The implementation of this conference by a worldwide renowned organization underlines the correlation between pollution and health issues and aims at finding solutions to reduce air pollution.
If you live in a polluted area, it is important to check the pollution levels such as the air quality before you start an outdoor activity. The Air Quality Index is a number communicated by governments to indicate how polluted air is and different countries have their own air quality indices, corresponding to different national air quality standards. These indices are divided into four scales: good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups and unhealthy.
An interesting study made by The Lancet in London explores the effects of a two hour walk either in a polluted area or in a cleaner area. The subjects of this study are 60 year old men and women suffering from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and while walking in a clean environment was beneficial to all participants, walking in a commercial street had the opposite effect. After two hours of being exposed to pollution, the participants were out of breath and suffered from cough, sputum and wheeze. Although a walk session should be beneficial for a person’s health, this study therefore proves that air pollution can turn it into a harmful process.
More than just a human cost, pollution also comes at a financial cost. People are responsible for running the economy and the high number of premature deaths linked to pollution alongside with the increasing number of sick leaves that employees have to take to recover from diseases caused by the latter negatively impacts the economy. Indeed, these health issues caused by pollution reduce and weaken the workforce while leading to a significant increase in healthcare expenses. The work revenue loss has been estimated by the World Bank to be 225 billions of dollars.
Our health is one of the most precious things we have in life and it is thus crucial to do everything in our power to preserve it, and this encompasses fighting pollution and cleaning our air.
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