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How Bad Is the Air Pollution Where You Live?

How bad exactly is the air pollution where you live?

By
Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
Episode #232

Air pollution has been linked to respiratory diseases, including lung cancer and chronic respiratory problems like asthma, as well as stroke, heart disease, and bladder cancer.  Pollutants can also enter our blood stream causing longer term blood disorders and even complications with our immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. Pregnant women and children are most at risk.

How bad is air pollution worldwide?

Limit your own contribution to pollution by minimizing driving and pushing for regulation at the local, state, and national levels to protect our communities.

A recent study in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters found that more than half a million people in the country of India died prematurely in 2011 due to air pollution related deaths, a tragedy that further costs the country hundreds of billions of dollars. In China, where air pollution levels have repeatedly clocked in at levels of over 300 micrograms per cubic meter, well over the WHO’s suggested limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, unhealthy air is estimated to lead to 1.6 million deaths each year.

In a report from the American Lung Association, cities in the US were ranked based on both their year-round levels of ambient particulate matter and their ozone exposure from 2011 to 2013. All of the top 7 cities for high levels of particle pollution were in California, including Bakersfield and Fresno-Madera, where 9% of the population suffers from asthma. Also in the top 12 were Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

Whether or not you live in one of these cities, what can you do to limit your exposure to air pollutants? The Natural Resources Defense Council has a helpful list of individual actions each one of us can take to protect ourselves from ambient pollution. Stay away from obvious smoke whether it’s coming from a tail pipe or a ground vent, and encourage school buses not to idle, for example, near where children play. Check the air quality reports in your area – you can sign up at AirNow.gov - and consider avoiding outdoor physical activity at times when levels are particularly high. And of course, limit your own contribution to pollution by minimizing driving and pushing for regulation at the local, state, and national levels to protect our communities.

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Everyday Einstein’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt is an extragalactic astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Virginia.

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