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Effects of Air Pollution on Health


Air pollution refers to the presence of substances in the air at concentrations that affect human health or the environment. Clean air is important for clean health, and air pollution threatens health in many ways. Every individual has a fundamental right to access free and unlimited clean air. The human lung acts as an interface between the body and the environment. On average, an individual takes in about 10 million breaths annually.

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In the process, there is a high possibility of toxic substances reaching the lungs and other organs where they can cause harmful effects. Therefore, there is a need for an appropriate policy response to minimize levels of air pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, and others (Koenig 165). Reduction in air pollution will bring considerable health benefits to humans. Adequate understanding of these effects is a significant step towards establishing successful policies to minimize these risks. This paper discusses the main effects of air pollution on health, the main air pollutants, and the policies necessary to reduce the levels of air pollution.

Effects of Air Pollution on Health

Exposure to air pollution causes several health problems, starting from modest changes in the respiratory tract and the affected pulmonary function, moving to restricted performance, emergency rooms visits and hospital admissions, and to deaths (Saldiva 220). Air pollution has adverse effects not only on the respiratory system but affects the cardiovascular system as well. This is true from both acute and chronic exposures to air pollutants.

The most adverse effects of air pollution in terms of the overall health problems include reduction in life expectancy of average populations, related to long-term exposures to high levels of air pollution with particulate matter. It is necessary to understand adequately the nature and magnitude of the effects of air pollutants on health. Air pollutants constitute an important overall component of both outdoor and indoor air and are known to cause health effects, essentially with individuals with pre-existing illnesses.

Air pollution poses a considerable threat to health causing morbidity and reduced life expectancy. The effects of air pollution on human health can be short term or long term. Both short term and long term effects can cause varying degrees of damage to human health. Short term and long term effects may include minor irritations and death respectively (Bauer 1093). Toxic air particles have short term effects such as; immediate irritation to the eyes or throat and in the long term causes death due to respiratory failure or heart attacks (Bauer 1092).

Population subgroups are affected differently by air pollution risks. Variations in terms of sensitivity exposure occur due to nutrition issues, state of general health, and genetic predisposition. Vulnerable groups under high risk include infants and young children, the elderly, pregnant mothers and their unborn fetuses, individuals suffering from other diseases, malnourished, and others (Koenig 165). It is necessary to identify these vulnerable groups because they are the first to be affected as the levels of air pollution increase. Generally, only a minority of the total population is affected by high levels of exposure. Therefore, any excess to mortality due to a pollutant is likely to be restricted to a small group of the population (Bauer 1094).

The Main Air Pollutants

The main constituents of air pollution include a highly variable, complex mixture of different substances, such as smog, that is, photochemical oxidants, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulates (Koenig 165). There are many different components in the troposphere that can cause potential effects on human health and the general environment. This paper focuses on pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide.

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First, long-term exposure to high levels of pollution with particulate matter causes a significant reduction in the life expectancy of the average population (Douglas 6). Important health effects associated with particulate matter in the short term exposure include respiratory problems, increase in mortality, inflammatory reactions in the lungs, increase in hospital admissions, and adverse effects on the cardiovascular system (Dominici et al., 10). The health effects associated with long-term exposure of particulate matter include; reduction in lung function in children and adults, reduced lung function development, reduction in life expectancy due to mainly cardiopulmonary deaths and lung cancer, and others (Koenig 139).

Particulates absorb various chemicals and increase their penetration and longevity in the lungs. They also condense water and vapor and augment the effects of gaseous pollutants like sulphur oxides. The main particulates of concern include; lead, asbestos, mercury, and other major metals. Effects of lead include; anemia, gastrointestinal cramping, and impaired neural functioning (Koenig 128). Asbestos affects pulmonary lesions and mesothelial tissue damages. Asbestos is also associated linked to pulmonary cancer. Lead poisoning on the other hand may affect retardation and possibly hyperactivity in children (Koenig 129).

Second, the ozone is the main toxic element of the oxidants. All photochemical oxidants are manufactured by processes of photosynthesis involving the emissions of hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxides from internal combustion (Evans 107). Health effects associated with short-term exposure to the ozone include; increase in mortality, an increase in hospital admissions, inflammatory reactions to the lungs, an increase in medication usage, adverse effects on pulmonary function, and others. Health effects associated with long term exposure include reduction in lung function (Koenig 139).

Third, the Combustion of fossils is the major source of ambient sulphur oxides. Exposure to ambient sulfur oxides irritates upper respiratory passage in humans, reducing mucus clearance, and reducing pulmonary functioning (Evans 106). Studies on greater exposures cause nasal lesions, bronchitis, pneumonia, and severe pulmonary disorder. Nitrogen oxides are ubiquitous in the air and produced by fossil fuel combustion in motor vehicles and electrical power production. It causes reduced pulmonary functioning, reduced immunity to fight diseases, diminished weight gain, and bronchial inflammation (Evans 107).

The health effects caused by nitrogen dioxide in the short term exposure include; increase in mortality, an increase in hospital admissions, an increase in airwaves allergic inflammation reactions, and effects in pulmonary functions, specifically in asthmatics. Health effects related to long term exposure include increased probability of respiratory symptoms.

Carbon monoxide is caused by incomplete combustion primarily emitted from motor vehicles or cigarette smoking. It causes headaches, nausea, and dizziness associated with deprivation of oxygen. Greater exposure to carbon monoxide can result to result to cortical cellular structure, altered heartbeat, vascular diseases, impaired liver functioning, and fetal growth retardation (Evans 106). Exposure to carbon monoxide is also associated with low birth weight, increased prenatal deaths, increased distress in patients, cardiovascular ailments, and possible infection of cardiovascular disease (Evans 107).

In sum exposure to air pollution specifically, particulate matter, and ozone pose a significant risk to human health. Recent evidence suggests, however, that ozone levels lower than those experienced during episodes of “summer smog” may have considerable effects on human health (Koenig 44).

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Policies Necessary to Reduce Air Pollution Levels and Human exposure

The causes and sources of air pollution are more complex and intricate. Therefore the matrix of strategies to reduce air pollution demands broad policy combinations. This necessitates the need to implement appropriate policy strategies to reduce air pollution at all levels and mitigate its adverse effects on human health. These measures include national policy and regulatory framework; local monitoring of air pollution; public information and health warnings; land use planning; transport policy; and energy policy.

First, the national air pollution standards need to be developed to assist local air pollution management. The national government must offer expertise and guidance not available locally. They can also assist local authorities with the fiscal, legal, and institutional mandate for taking action on air pollution locally. Second, local air pollution monitoring must be put in place to identify the changes in pollution concentrations.

The monitoring mechanism must support the overall air pollution management strategy. Three, use public information systems to warn people of severe air pollution consequences, offer control measures, and in the long run increase public awareness of air pollution problems. Fourth, establish education and awareness programs to help people take measures to avoid exposure. Fifth, there is a need to reduce sulfur and organic toxic elements from relevant petroleum products and encouragement of increased use of locally applicable renewable energy to reduce emissions.


In summary, air pollution affects human health. The quality of air affects our health, interpersonal behavior, mood, attitudes, outdoor activities, outdoor activities, and others. Most research on air pollution effects on health tend to concentrate more on physical outcomes such as mortality or diseases. I would suggest the need to look at air quality in terms of policy strategies that may be linked to air quality such as discomfort, irritability, depression, and anxiety.

There is a need to document the adverse effects of different air pollutants on human health, and this should include diseases and the estimated reduction in life expectancy as a result of toxic air. All evidence of increased mortality in highly polluted areas needs to be documented. Relevant authorities must implement regulations by authorities to minimize emissions of toxic air substances. In essence, there is a need for accurate information on the effects of air pollution on health as a basis for establishing effective strategies to minimize these effects.

Works Cited

Brauer, Michael. “Air Pollution from Traffic and Development of Respiratory.” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 166 (2002): 1092-1098. Web.

Dominici, Francesca, Peng Roger, Bell Michel, Pham Luu, and Zeger Scot. Particulate Air Pollution and Hospital Admission for Cardiovascular and Respiratory Diseases. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 295 (2006): 10-21.

Douglas, James, and Waller Ryan. Air Pollution and Respiratory Infection in Children. British Medical Association, 20 (1966):1-8.

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Evans, Gary. Environmental Stress. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Koenig, Jane. Health Effects of Ambient Air Pollution. New York: Springer, 2000.

Saldiva, Lichtenfel, and Paiva Barone. Between Air Pollution and Mortality Due to Respiratory Diseases. Environmental Research Journal, 65 (1994): 218-225.

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StudyCorgi. "Effects of Air Pollution on Health." December 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Effects of Air Pollution on Health." December 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Effects of Air Pollution on Health'. 9 December.

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