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Long-Term Effects of Air Pollution

By Milton Kazmeyer

Overview

Air pollution is a concern of the millions of Americans who live in or near big cities. Urban sources of pollution, such as cars, power generation and factories, release tons of pollutants into the atmosphere every year. Those toxic gases and particles can have lasting effects on you, your children and your environment. While living in a cloud of smog can ruin your day, the problems it can cause years down the road can be dangerous and even life threatening.

Pulmonary Disease

Studies have linked regular exposure to air pollution to many different types of pulmonary disease, especially in children. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that air pollution causes 64,000 deaths each year from pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution can also cause decreased lung capacity in children, reducing lung capacity by up to 20 percent. The National Institutes of Health also reports that children exposed to pollution at a young age are four times more likely to develop asthma by adulthood.

Cardiovascular Effects

The American Heart Association reports that living in areas with heavy air pollution can reduce your life by 1.8 to 3.1 years on average. Air pollution can cause hardening of the arteries, an increased chance of heart attack or stroke, and can even cause problems with normal blood function and clotting. In addition, increased levels of pollutants can raise carbon monoxide levels in the blood, which can lead to a host of health problems including impaired brain function and even death.

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Heavy Metals

Another danger of air pollution is toxic particulates, such as lead, mercury and arsenic. When inhaled, these particles can build up in your body over time and cause health problems once concentrations reach dangerous levels. Arsenic can increase your risk of cancer; mercury can cause nerve damage and birth defects; and lead can cause learning disabilities and impair brain functions, especially in children. In high concentrations, many of the substances found in air pollution can be fatal.

Global Warming

Air pollution does not only affect humans. One of the less toxic byproducts of combustion engines and energy generation is carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere helps trap the sun’s heat, keeping our planet warm, and an increase in carbon dioxide leads to an increase in overall temperature. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the years 2000 to 2009 represented the hottest decade on record, and one of the causes was the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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