5 Ways Air Pollution is Destroying Your Health
Published April 29, 2015
You probably already know about some of the dangers that severe air pollution exposure can cause and how places like stoplights at intersections can increase a person’s exposure to harmful air particles up to 29 times more than being on the open road. While these facts are definitely startling, you probably don’t know about the almost invisible dangers.  Numerous diseases and cognitive issues are now being linked with air pollution exposure, and this article is meant to educate you on five ways you’re letting air pollution destroy your health. You can still protect yourself from something as ubiquitous as air pollution!
The Hidden Dangers of Air Pollution
As we slowly start to practice more sustainable forms of agriculture and industry, we are creating a better environment for our world. Air pollution will remain, however, contributing to chronic health concerns that seem entirely unrelated to poor environment. That’s where prevention kicks in. Here are some of the ways air pollution is destroying health.
1. Air Pollution and Suicide Link
It may seem innocuous to think that air pollution could lead to something as serious as suicide, but studies in Taiwan, South Korea, China, and now Utah suggest a link between the two. Not only is suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the US, it is the number 8th cause of death in Utah.  Obviously, there are many factors that must be considered when discussing causes of suicide; however, suicide rates increased in Utah during the spring and fall (a time when certain aspects of air pollution can be worse). Being conscious of this connection is another step in protecting your mental and physical health.
2. Air Pollution Slows Cognition in Schoolchildren
We all know that air pollution can exacerbate symptoms of asthma and other respiratory-related illnesses and diseases, but did you also know that it can affect neurodevelopmental aspects of humans, too? Dr. Jordi Sunyer did a study to see just how affected schoolchildren are by air pollution (specifically traffic pollution). The study concluded that children who attended schools in polluted areas showed overall slower cognition in comparison to those who attended schools in areas with less traffic pollution. “The associations between slower cognitive development and higher levels of air pollutants remained after the researchers took factors such as parents’ education, commuting time, smoking in the home and green spaces at school into account.”  The best way to fight this is to stop idling. It may seem like an insignificant action, but by turning off your engine, you could be helping a young student’s neurodevelopment!
3. Air Pollution Risks Health of Frequent Flyers
Those who fly frequently (especially pilots or other airline staff) could potentially be more at risk for certain issues due to the amount of air pollution to which they expose themselves. This has been dubbed “aerotoxic syndrome.” Most planes have a mechanism that compresses air from the engines and uses that as air in the cabin, but sometimes, these mechanisms malfunction and allow oil particles to taint the cabin air. Many airline employees have mentioned this, but one pilot, Richard Westgate, passed away in 2012 after claiming to be a victim of poisonous and toxic cabin fumes.  Whether you fly many times through the year for business or if you are, yourself, a pilot, take extra care in making sure the air you breathe in a plane cabin isn’t putting you at risk for premature death.
4. Air Pollution Contributed by Cremations
With land for burials becoming more scarce (and also more expensive), many people turn to cremation as an alternate form of honoring the body of a loved one who has passed on. The unfortunate side effect of cremation is mercury emissions. Only one country has a mercury emissions limit while all others in the EU allow these emissions to go unchecked.  Honoring a fallen loved one should not come at the price of endangering yourself and others, but there are alternatives such as alkaline hydrolysis or “liquid cremation” that are far healthier for the environment and for you.
5. Air Pollution and Autism Spectrum Disorders
Cases of autism and other related disorders have been on the rise for some time now, but air pollution may be a contributing factor in the rise to these life-altering neurodevelopmental disorders. As with any neurodevelopmental disorder, an ASD is always a combination of genetics and environment, but are you endangering your unborn child without knowing it? Several reports noted a link between exposure to heavy metals and other pollutants in children who were more at risk to develop an ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Other studies focused on pregnant women and how closely they lived to freeways and other sources of heavy pollution. All of the studies found similar exposures to a handful of particular pollutants that seemed to increase the risk of autism in newborns. 
Air Pollution: No Simple Solution
It’s difficult in this day and age to come close to removing any kind of air pollution from your life, unfortunately, but there is a way that you can better monitor the amount and types of air pollution you are exposing yourself to on a daily basis. You can keep abreast with local news about your city or even check in on a Breathe Cam.  Keep plants inside your home to help remove harmful pollutants and substances and, for all of you parents out there, keep in mind that cleaner air is one of the best things for the development of your children (both mentally and physically).  
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Baggaley, Kate. Stoplights are hotspots for air pollution. Science News. 2015.
- Pappas, Stephanie. Utah suicides linked to air pollution. Live Science. 2015.
- CBC News. Traffic pollution tied to slower cognition in schoolchildren. CBC News. 2015.
- Campbell, Jaime. Toxic fumes in plane cabin’s pose health risks to frequent flyers, says coroner. Independent.co.uk. 2015.
- Lewis, Barbara. EU should curb mercury emissions from cremations, campaigners say. Reuters. 2015.
- Arnold, Carrie. Air pollution and ASDs: Homing in on an environmental risk factor. EHP. 2015.
- Keane, Jonathan. Keep an eye on your city’s pollution in real time. New Scientist. 2015.
- Barboza, Tony. Cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs in Southern California children. LA Times. 2015.
- Kinzler, Don. NASA Study: Houseplants remove harmful substances from indoors. Duluth News Tribute. 2015.
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