Air Quality and Health

Health Education-Mrs. Stec

PA State Standards/Objectives

Evaluate factors that impact the body systems and apply protective/ preventive strategies. fitness level environment (e.g., pollutants, available health care) health status (e.g., physical, mental, social) nutrition.

Identify and analyze factors that influence the prevention and control of health problems. research medical advances technology government policies/regulations.

Analyze the interrelationship between environmental factors and community health. public health policies and laws/health promotion and disease prevention individual choices/maintenance of environment recreational opportunities/ health status.

Students will understand both outdoor and indoor air quality and how it can affect their health.

Students will apply information learned to properly protect their land and water.

Understanding Air Pollution

Indoor and outdoor air pollutants can harm human health and damage the natural environment.

You normally can’t see it, but air is all around you. The quality of the air you breathe has a significant impact on your health. Air pollution, the contamination of the earth’s atmosphere by harmful substances, poses serious health concerns. In fact, numerous studies have linked it to a wide variety of health problems, including lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Air Quality

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets air quality standards to prevent and correct problems related to environmental air pollution. The EPA has placed limits on the levels of six pollutants that harm human health and the environment.

  • Ozone (O3) forms at ground level when certain other pollutants react chemically in the presence of sunlight. Ground-level ozone is a major component of smog, a brownish haze that sometimes forms in urban areas. Ozone irritates the lungs and makes breathing difficult. It can worsen respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.

  • Particulate matter (PM) is a general term for small particles found in the air, such as dust, soil, soot, smoke, mold, and droplets of liquid. PM can cause breathing difficulties, certain lung diseases, and even heart attacks.

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that forms when carbon in fuel is not burned completely. Outdoor sources of CO include automobile exhaust and industrial processes. CO harms the body by preventing oxygen from reaching body tissues. At high enough levels, CO can be deadly.

  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2) comes chiefly from power plants, especially those that burn coal. In addition to harming respiratory health, SO2 can combine with water to form acid rain, which is harmful to plants and animals.

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOX) are highly reactive gases that form when fuel is burned at high temperatures, as in motor vehicles and power plants. NOX contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, acid rain, PM, and a wide variety of toxic chemicals.

  • Lead is a metal found naturally in the environment as well as in manufactured products. Exposure to lead can damage the kidneys, liver, brain, and nerves and can cause cardiovascular disease and anemia.

To track the levels of pollutants in the air, the EPA has created the Air Quality Index (AQI), an index for reporting daily air quality. The AQI, shown below, informs the public about local air quality and whether pollution levels pose health risks.

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Greenhouse Gases

Air pollutants can also contribute to global climate change. The greenhouse effect is the trapping of heat by gases in the earth’s atmosphere. These gases allow sunlight to enter our atmosphere but block radiation from escaping to outer space—much like the glass roof of a greenhouse. The chief greenhouse gas produced by human activity is carbon dioxide (CO2). The burning of fossil fuels in power plants and motor vehicles is the chief source of CO2 buildup.

The greenhouse effect is actually normal and necessary to support life on this planet. In the past 200 years, however, the concentration of greenhouse gases trapped in the earth’s atmosphere has risen, resulting in global warming. This is an overall increase in the earth’s temperature. Since 1900, the earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 1.2 to 1.4 degrees F. If levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise, average temperatures could increase anywhere from 2.5 to 10.4 degrees F by the end of the twenty-first century.

The exact effects of global warming are hard to predict. Already, though, glaciers are beginning to melt, causing sea levels to rise. Global weather patterns could also shift. Areas might receive much less or much more rainfall than they do now. Plants and animals that cannot adapt to the new conditions could become extinct. The world’s food supply could also be at risk if crop-growing areas are struck by drought.

Indoor Air Pollution

Research has found that in many cases, the air inside buildings contains more pollutants than the outdoor air, even in the biggest cities. Common sources of indoor air pollution include household chemicals, such as cleaning fluids and pesticides, and chemicals used in building and furnishing materials. Lack of ventilation makes the problem worse by trapping air pollutants inside.

Specific problems with indoor air quality include:

carbon monoxide, produced by fuel-burning equipment, such as stoves, furnaces, and fireplaces.

asbestos, a mineral fiber. In the past, asbestos was often used as a fire retardant in insulation and building materials. Cutting or sanding these materials can release particles of asbestos into the air. Inhaling these particles can lead to lung cancer and other forms of lung damage.

radon, an odorless, radioactive gas produced during the natural breakdown of the element uranium in soil and rocks. It can enter homes through dirt floors, cracks in concrete floors and walls, or floor drains. Exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer.

Reducing Air Pollution

Your choices can fight air pollution.

You can make choices to help reduce air pollution. Since power plants and home heating systems are sources of air pollution, reducing your use of energy is a good place to start. Here are some tips for saving energy:

  • Turn off radios, computers, televisions, and other such appliances when they are not in use.

  • Wash clothes in warm or cold water rather than hot water.

  • When cooking, don’t preheat the oven longer than necessary. Try cooking small amounts of food in a toaster oven or microwave rather than a full-size oven.

Cars are another major source of air pollution. Whenever you can, try walking, riding a bicycle, using public transportation, or carpooling to save gas. Another way to conserve gasoline is to reduce the use of motorized equipment, such as power mowers, chain saws, and leaf blowers. When possible, use hand tools to get the job done.

Managing Indoor Air Pollution

To improve indoor air quality, you can identify sources of pollution and get rid of them. Home test kits and detectors can help you measure the levels of radon and carbon monoxide in your home. Depending on what you find, you may be able to eliminate the pollution sources yourself, or you may need the help of a professional.

If you can’t get rid of all the sources completely, you may be able to reduce the pollutant levels in the air by increasing the ventilation in your home. Opening windows and turning on window or attic fans can help remove pollutants that build up in the short term. A long-term, more expensive solution is to modify your home’s ventilation system. You can also try using air cleaners to filter out particle pollution. However, these devices cannot eliminate most gaseous pollutants.

Noise Polution

Exposure to loud noises can harm your health.

Traffic, loud music, construction equipment, and power tools are all sources of noise pollution. This is harmful, unwanted sound loud enough to damage hearing. To better understand what types of noise levels can harm your hearing, take a look at Figure 28.7. This graph shows the decibel levels of some common sounds. A decibel is a unit that measures the intensity of sound. A level of 0 decibels represents the lowest level of sound the human ear can detect. Noise levels of 130 decibels or higher can cause pain.

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If you are exposed to loud noise, you may experience a temporary hearing loss, which may be accompanied by ringing in the ears. In most cases, you will recover your normal hearing shortly after the noise stops. However, repeated exposure to noise at levels around 90 decibels or higher can lead to permanent hearing loss.

If you are going someplace where you are likely to be exposed to loud noise, wear earplugs or earmuffs. You can also avoid contributing to noise pollution by keeping the volume down on stereos and TV sets. Use manual tools instead of power tools, and avoid using your car horn unnecessarily.

How Can I Protect My Hearing from Noise?

Whenever you are exposed to noises at or above 90 decibels for more than an hour or two, you should wear either earplugs or earmuffs. Earplugs are better at blocking low-pitched noises, and earmuffs are better at blocking high-pitched noises. Properly fitting earplugs and earmuffs provide a complete seal between the hearing protector and ear. If they do not fit properly and the seal is incomplete, they will not be as effective. Pre-molded earplugs are less likely to form a complete seal than expandable or moldable earplugs, and earmuffs may not form a complete seal on people who wear glasses or have long hair. Wearing earplugs and earmuffs together provides better protection than either alone and is recommended for noise above 105 decibels.

Is your music too loud? Take a look at this below video