Health Effects From Air Pollution
Research has shown that air pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter (PM) increase the amount and seriousness of lung and heart disease and other health-related issues. More investigation is needed to further understand the role poor air quality plays in causing detrimental effects on health and increased disease, especially in vulnerable populations. Children, the elderly, and people living in areas with high levels of air pollution are especially susceptible. Results from research are used to support the nation's air quality standards under the Clean Air Act and contribute to improvements in public health.
Health Effects of Air Pollutants on Vulnerable Populations
Research has shown that some people are more susceptible than others to air pollutants. These groups include children, pregnant women, older adults, and individuals with pre-existing heart and lung disease. People in low socioeconomic neighborhoods and communities may be more vulnerable to air pollution because of many factors. Proximity to industrial sources of air pollution, underlying health problems, poor nutrition, stress, and other factors can contribute to increased health impacts in these communities.
There is a need for a greater understanding of the factors that may influence whether a population or age group is at increased risk of health effects from air pollution. Advances in analytical approaches used to study the health effects of air pollution will improve exposure estimates for healthy and at-risk groups.
Long-Term and Short-Term Effects of Exposure to Air Pollutants
People can experience exposure to different aspects of air pollution. Poor air quality can impact individuals for a short period of time during the day, or more frequently during a given day. Exposure to pollutants can also occur over multiple days, weeks, or months due to seasonal air pollution, such as increased ozone during the summer or particulate matter from woodstoves during the winter.
The health impact of air pollution exposure depends on the duration and concentrations, and the health status of the affected populations. Studies are needed to increase knowledge of the exposure duration and the possible cumulative increase in risk.
The research is focused on three main areas:
Short-term peak exposures, such as wildfires, traffic-related sources, or other episodic events;
Intermittent and cumulative exposures;
Mechanisms underlying the exposure risks
Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke
Larger and more intense wildfires are creating the potential for greater smoke production and chronic exposures in the United States, particularly in the West. Wildfires increase air pollution in surrounding areas and can affect regional air quality.
The health effects of wildfire smoke can range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to smoke exposure. Emissions from wildfires are known to cause increased visits to hospitals and clinics by those exposed to smoke.
It is important to more fully understand the human health effects associated with short- and long-term exposures to smoke from wildfires as well as prescribed fires together referred to as wildland fires. EPA is conducting research to advance understanding of the health effects of different types of fires as well as combustion phases. Researchers want to know:
What is the full extent of the health effects of smoke exposure?
Who is most at risk?
Are there differences in health effects from different wildfire fuel types or combustion phases (burning versus flaming)?
What strategies and approaches are most effective in protecting public health?
What are the environmental, social, and economic impacts of wildfire emissions?
Combat Health Issues Associated with Poor Indoor Air Quality
The necessity for clean air has never been more important. As populations across the country and the world expand, the need for manufacturing grows with it. Those exposed to emissions from manufacturing areas and high-traffic roads and highways need to take extra precautions regarding the improvement and maintenance of their indoor air. The utilization of air purifiers has been proven to help create and maintain a healthy indoor environment by cleaning the air of allergens, pollutants, contaminants, and other impurities. However, air purifiers alone are not the cure-all. The need for regular HVAC filter replacement, as well as other air quality services, and house cleaning, is imperative to your air quality and overall health.