Most of us aren’t surprised to hear of the link between toxic air and lung cancer, but air pollution can feed cancer cells beyond your respiratory system.
Researchers in the UK and Hong Kong determined that long-term exposure to ambient fine particulate matter can lead to multiple kinds of cancer and a wide host of health issues, which we’ll discuss in this article.
Why Does Air Pollution Cause Health Complications?
Most air pollutants contain a mixture of harmful substances, like sulfur, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, VOCs, and polycyclic and Benzene aromatic hydrocarbons. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) separates air pollutants based on how likely they are to cause cancer. One carcinogen, radon, is guaranteed to cause cancer, while gasoline may not.
Air pollution complications can come from inhaling non-fibrous material and construction debris, glass and other fine glass-like materials, cellulose, mercury, dioxins, PAHs, among others.
For example, silicosis, a type of lung disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust, was commonly found in first responders to the 9/11 attacks. Lead, asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and cadmium were inhaled by residents and students who may receive compensation for their illness that developed during or after scheduled clean-ups.
What are the Most Common Health Risks of Air Pollution?
A study that enrolled 66,280 residents from Hong Kong 65 or older researched the effects of air pollution on seniors for 10 years. In 2011, the research found that for every 10 µg/m3 of fine particulate matter above 2.5 micrometers increased the risk of dying from all cancers by 22%.
The mortality rate for cancers of the upper digestive tract was 42%, 80% for breast cancer, 35% for liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas, and 36% for lung cancer. The same study also found that pollution may affect gut microbiota, the fungus that lives in the digestive tract.
Air pollution can affect your breathing, heart, brain, filtering organs, and reproductive organs.
• Lungs: Asthma, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
• Heart: Angina, heart attacks, heart failure, arrhythmia, and hypertension.
• Brain: Stroke, dementia, premature again, eye problems.
• Filtering Organs: Kidney and bladder cancer, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, fatty liver.
• Reproductive Organs: Lower fertility rates, miscarriages, unhealthy fetuses.
Small air particles can penetrate the lungs and travel throughout the body, which can cause a fight response in your white blood cells. White blood cells attack the pollutants like they would fight a disease or flu, but they often damage the surrounding area further.
What Increases Your Risks of Air-Pollution Related Diseases?
Preexisting Health Conditions do. Adults who have preexisting health conditions are more likely to suffer from air-pollution-related illnesses than those who don’t. If you already have a lung condition like asthma, lung cancer, COPD, or heart conditions like angina or arrhythmia, you could be at risk.
Where you Live
The top 10 cities with the worst air-quality ratings are primarily located in Asia, except for Johannesburg, South Africa, which tops the list at an air quality rating (AQI) of 204. For comparison, Denver has the highest AQI in the United States, with a 41. New York City, Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City are in the top 100. Living near a busy roadway or industries that produce a lot of emissions are more exposed.
Children and Older Adults
Babies, toddlers, children, and teens are more likely to retain air pollutants in their bodies for a longer amount of time than adults. Since the lung, heart, and defense systems aren’t fully developed yet, they’re less likely to fight off sickness. Older adults or seniors are more likely to have weak lungs, heart, a poor defense system, or an undiagnosed heart or lung condition.
Time Spent Outdoors
The more time you spend outdoors, the more likely you’ll develop an air pollution disease.