Air pollution can have a negative impact on human health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that there are 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. Diseases linked to pollution included; ischaemic heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. Many of the diseases are linked to the Respiratory System.
The Respiratory System
The Respiratory System is composed of four main organs: Nose, Lungs, Throat, and Mouth. Its function is to take in oxygen for the blood system and get rid of Carbon dioxide.
Types of pollutants that can get into the lungs:
• Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
• Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
What is Particulate matter and why is it dangerous?
Particulate Matter that is most commonly focused on in regard to human health is PM 2.5 and PM10.
• PM2.5- Organic compounds
• PM 10- Dust, pollen mould
A study (Pascal et al., 2013) was completed on 25 European cities in regard to the effect particulate matter has on human health. The findings from the study included:
- An increase in daily levels of ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM) resulted in an increase in the following days, of mortality and hospital admissions. Predominantly related to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
- Fine particles (PM2.5) linked to an increase in long-term mortality, lung cancer and cardio-pulmonary diseases (myocardial infarction = Heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma)
- Ozone is linked to long-term respiratory mortality, with particular exposure to ozone during summer
Effects of different pollutants on human health
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) short-term exposures, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours can lead to respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma (USEPA,)
- Sulphur dioxide (SO2) short-term exposures, ranging from 5 minutes to 24 hours can lead to adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms at elevated ventilation rates example while exercising (USEPA,)
- Ozone (O3) short term exposures, ranging from 15 minutes to 24 hours can irritate the eyes and cause constriction of the airways.
Susceptibility to these pollutants include infants, children, the elderly, and those with cardiopulmonary disease.
Irish Quality Index for Human Health (AQIH):
The AQIH is published by the Irish EPA. The purpose of the AQIH is to assist people to understand the effect of air pollution on human health. It ranks air quality from 1 (good) to 10 (very poor) and is based on measurements of five air pollutants all of which can harm health:
- Nitrogen dioxide gas
- PM2.5 particles
- PM10 particles
- Sulphur dioxide gas
- Ozone gas
The AQIH can be found on the EPA website is updated regularly.
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