Air Pollution & Health

Updated Feb. 13, 2016

General Effects

Air pollution provokes a systemic inflammatory process centered in the vascular network that delivers blood through the body, including all the major organs.   The impact at the level of individual cells includes oxidative stress,  endothelial cell death, cytotoxicity, macrophage infiltration, and alteration of lipid deposition.  Particulate matter can penetrate into individual cells anywhere in the body, even into sub cellular structures like the nucleus of the cell where the chromosomes lie.   The affect on chromosomes is likely a common pathway to multiple diseases.  Changes in chromosomal function and expression are capable of being passed on to subsequent generations.  Air pollution accelerates the aging process and shortens the lengths of telomeres, even in newborns.

Simplistically, air pollution’s disease burden is virtually the same as that from cigarette smoke–the association is weaker but still significant.  Virtually every type of lung disease is caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

There is now a substantial body of research correlating increased rates of multiple types of cancer–breast,  lung,  prostate, cervical, brain, and stomach cancer, and childhood leukemia.

The increase in mortality in populations exposed to air pollution is found even  at the lowest doses measurable.   In other words, in the same way there no safe number of cigarettes a person can smoke, there is no safe level of air pollution a person can breathe–it has detrimental affects in concentrations even well below the EPA’s national standards.

Pregnancy

At any one time about 40,000 Utah women are pregnant.  That means most of them will, at some time during the pregnancy, be forced to breathe Utah’s infamous air pollution.  The first three months after conception are the most critical for preserving the integrity of brain development. The fetal brain adds about 250,000 cells per minute reaching an eventual total of about 200 billion brain cells between the age of one and two.  During this extraordinary period of brain growth the tiny particles, chemicals and heavy metals found in air pollution can reach the fetal brain from the mother through the placenta where they can actually penetrate those new brain cells, change the chemical envelope of the chromosomes, and altering their destiny as the foundation of that person’s intellect, personality, behavior and emotional well being.  That autism may be one of those end results is entirely consistent with previous well established research.

Children

Children’s lungs, immune system, and brain are immature at birth and continue to rapidly develop until approximately age 6.  Pollution affects these developing systems causing an increase in the following.

  • Chronic cough
  • Bronchitis
  • Reduced lung function, and likely permanent loss of lung capacity
  • Wheezing
  • Asthma Attacks
  • Ear Infections

Adults and Elderly

Air pollution is associated with increased rates of strokes, heart attacks, rhythm disturbances and sudden death. In addition, air pollution is associated with impaired intellectual performance, accelerated brain atrophy and dementia in adults, and many different types of neurologic diseases.

The elderly are at increased risk because their lung function has deteriorated because of aging, and their blood vessels have become narrowed and less flexible.  The inflammatory process triggered by air pollution will then have a greater adverse end result, by adding “insult to injury.”

Type I and Type II diabetes, immune suppression, inflammatory bowel disease, several types of bacterial infections, lupus, impaired fertility, sleep apnea, obesity and suicide are all elevated in populations exposed to more air pollution.

[Medical References]

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