The Health Hazards of Air Pollution—Implications for Your Patients
Air pollution has many deleterious health effects. The International Energy Agency recently released a report attributing an annual 6.5 million premature deaths to air pollution worldwide. Although the Clean Air Act has done a great deal to improve air quality in the United States since 1970, some of these gains are being eroded in part because of changes in the climate. In fact, many localities have never even been able to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standards. This poor air quality becomes even worse as temperatures continue to rise. Greater warmth and sunlight interact with exhaust to produce more ground-level ozone, a common pollutant, and powerful lung irritant. Air pollution is associated with a greater risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, independent of smoking history, and increased airway reactivity to allergens in patients with atopic asthma. Warming temperatures can
aggravate the effects of air pollution. Increased levels of particulates exacerbate preexisting
respiratory conditions and lead to higher rates of hospitalization and death. Air pollution is also associated with cardiovascular disease, including stroke and hypertension. One study also found a link between air pollution and high levels of anxiety. In addition, air pollution may contribute to low birth weight, onset of preterm labor, and other negative perinatal outcomes.