Air Quality and Your Health

Air pollution affects everyone. The average adult breathes over 3,000 gallons of air every day. Children breathe even more per pound of body weight and are more susceptible to air pollution. Groups especially sensitive to pollution include:

  • children
  • the elderly
  • people with heart and lung disease
  • people who work or exercise outside during the summer

Short-term exposure to elevated levels of ground-level ozone irritates lung passages and causes inflammation. Ozone is a strong oxidizer and it affects the lung tissue, much like a sunburn affects the skin. Symptoms of exposure to elevated levels of ozone include coughing, wheezing, chest pains, and headaches. Ozone can aggravate chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis, and can lead to increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Long-term, prolonged exposure to even low levels of ozone may cause asthma in children and lead to permanent lung damage.

Particle pollution is another significant air pollutant in the Delaware Valley. Small particles of dust, metals, toxins, and liquids can be breathed deep into the lungs, where they cause wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing, or they can aggravate asthma or bronchitis. Particle pollution also poses a health risk for those with heart conditions. The smallest particles may actually enter the blood stream, changing blood chemistry, making the heart work harder to get oxygen to the body. Long-term exposure to particle pollution has been linked to decreased lung function and even shortened life expectancy.

Taking positive steps to improve air quality will help to reduce the health and economic impacts of air pollution. Think of clean air as preventative medicine on a regional scale.

Who is at risk?

Children
Children are at risk for several reasons. They spend more time outdoors, their lungs are still developing, and they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults. These factors mean that children not only have greater exposure to pollutants like ozone and particle pollution, but those pollutants can exert greater impacts on developing lungs.
Elderly
Older people are more likely to suffer from heart and lung conditions. When air quality is poor, the elderly should take special precautions.
People with heart or lung diseases
Over 900,000 people in the Delaware Valley suffer from asthma, bronchitis, or other respiratory illness. Over 71 million Americans have some form of heart disease. This means that hundreds of thousands of people in our region are especially impacted by poor air quality.
Adults who exercise, work or spend time outdoors
One of the largest sensitive groups is also one of the least likely to be aware that they are at risk. Cyclists, joggers, outdoor workers, or other adults who exert themselves outdoors are at risk of respiratory impairment when ground level ozone or particle pollution concentrations are high.

For more information on Air Pollution and your health, please visit: www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution