Air pollution: How the health of our planet impacts the health of our species

The health of the environment and our own health are intertwined. For an example of how this plays out look no further than the impact of air pollution. An article in the Financial Review by Paul Biegler over the weekend highlighted just that. In 2014 the World Health Organisation estimated around 7 million people died (1 in 8 of total global deaths) as a result of air pollution exposure, numbers expected to rise. With thousands of breaths per minute, we consume approximately 10,000 litres of air per day. Therefore the quality of that air is important.

Impact on health

When referring to air pollution we refer to more than just traffic exhaust, it includes airborne toxins from industry smokestacks, construction dust, and burning of crop stubble (to name a few). Reducing air pollution reduces the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases. It is well understood the impact that even just a day of exposure has on health. However new studies are showing the negative effects of exposure of even an hour or two. A recent study found that short term exposure to small matter (less than 10 microns or less than 2.5 microns), such as soot and mineral dust increased the risk of heart attack, arrhythmia and subsequent death.

Who is at risk?

As of 2014, 92% of the world’s population were living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met. These guidelines are currently under review and the updated more stringent guidelines will be released in 2018. Air pollution is officially a group 1 carcinogen, a confirmed cause of lung cancer. Professor Marc Cohen highlights five factors determining toxicity including; type, dose, combination, timing, and individual. For example, children are most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Children have higher food, fluid, and air intake per kg than adults. They have higher absorption and metabolic rate and reduced detox systems, making them more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

Professor Marc Cohen explores this and more in his 10 toxic truths.  If you haven’t read Professor Marc Cohen’s work then I encourage you to do so here. His work is something I will be sharing more of in the coming months.

Listen: Dr. Ron Ehrlich interviews Dr. Stephen Cabral. Post continues after audio.

What can you do about air pollution?

  • If traveling to cities with high air pollution then do so during times of lower levels, for example not during winter
  • Wear a N95 mask if you travel frequently to highly affected areas (China, India, some middle east countries)
  • Vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly and use plants to improve indoor air quality
  • Conserve energy – turn off electrical appliances at the source and switch to energy efficient light bulbs
  • Limit the use of your car and opt for public transport, bikes or walking
  • Choose environmentally friendly cleaners and low tox products
  • Join local advocacy groups for emission reductions
  • Reduce or eliminate wood fire
  • Plant a garden
  • Be inspired by more ways to reduce air pollution here.

Listen: Dr. Ron Ehrlich’s Good Byte 1 Episode: A climate tipping point. Post continues after audio.

These are some big issues, which I begin to explore and unpack in my book, A Life Less Stressed. I’ll also be digging deeper into the link between the environment and our health on my podcast, Unstress, which will be launching January 2018.

Order your copy of A Life Less Stressed here