Sunday, April 10, 2016

1 in 4 Deaths Linked to Air Pollution

Mar. 30, 2016

According to a recent report1,2,3,4 on environmentally related deaths by the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 4 deaths are related to living and working in a toxic environment—with air pollution being the greatest contributor to this risk.

Meanwhile, thanks to improved sanitation, mosquito nets, and access to safe water, communicable infectious diseases like malaria have decreased, although they still account for one-third of the global death toll each year.

According to WHO's report, air pollution is a major contributor to diseases such as lung and respiratory infections, heart disease, and cancer. (Water pollution was found to be a significant contributor to diarrheal diseases and infant mortality.)

Of the top environmentally related deaths in 2012, stroke came in at No. 1, followed by heart disease.


The report did include some good news though. A number of cities around the world have tackled environmental pollution head on, and the effects are readily observable. As reported by Global Post:5

"The WHO highlighted the example of the Brazilian city of Curitiba, where authorities are investing heavily in slum improvements, waste recycling, public transport and pedestrian walkways to encourage people to walk and cycle more.

Despite a five-fold population increase in the past 50 years, air pollution levels are comparatively lower than in many other rapidly growing cities and life expectancy is two years longer than the national average..."

In related news, American researchers warn that exposure to air pollution for as little as one or two months may be enough to increase your risk of diabetes6 — especially if you're obese.

While they're not sure of the mechanism behind this link, Mexican-Americans living in southern California were found to have an increased risk of high cholesterol, impaired blood sugar control, and insulin resistance after short-term exposure to air contaminants.

Lead author Dr. Frank Gilliland suggests inflammation may be the trigger — a hypothesis supported by previous research.


Air pollution and noise pollution often go hand-in-hand, as some of the most heavily air-polluted areas are also those near loud busy roadways and airports.

Interestingly, earlier research has found that both air and noise pollution is independently associated with heart risks, specifically subclinical atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

In a German study8 of more than 4,200 people, researchers used a measure of arterial hardening known as "thoracic aortic calcification" (TAC) to estimate heart risks.

Exposure to fine particle air pollution increased TAC scores by nearly 20 percent while exposure to noise pollution increased TAC by about 8 percent.

This was after controlling for other variables that may influence heart health, such as age, gender, smoking, physical activity, alcohol use and more. What this means is that people living in high-risk areas need to account for both types of pollution to protect their heart health.

If you have an existing heart condition, air pollution becomes an even significant consideration. Previous research9 has shown that breathing exhaust fumes from heavy traffic may trigger a heart attack among this population – a risk that continues for up to 6 hours after exposure.

Simply sitting in heavy traffic has even been found to triple the risk of suffering from a heart attack, courtesy of the exhaust fumes.10

Interestingly, both fine particle matter air pollution and noise pollution are believed to increase your cardiovascular disease risk through similar biologic pathways, including by causing an imbalance in your autonomic nervous system (ANS).

Your ANS is intricately involved in regulating biological functions such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, clotting and viscosity. As the researchers noted, "both exposures seem to be important and both must be considered on a population level, rather than focusing on just one hazard."


A shocking 2009 study16 that examined the air inside 52 ordinary homes near the Arizona-Mexico border found indoor air was far more contaminated than previously imagined. A whopping 586 chemicals were identified, including the pesticides diazinon, chlorpyrifos and DDT.

Phthalates were also found in very high levels. Even more disturbing, they detected 120 chemicals they couldn't even identify! So, what might you be breathing inside your home? The following table is a summary of some of the most common pollutants and toxic particles found in indoor air, and their sources.


To improve the air quality in your home, open a few windows for five to 10 minutes each day, preferably on opposite sides of the house to create cross ventilation. Even if outdoor air quality is poor, indoor air can be 5 to 10 times more polluted, so getting rid of that stale air can be an important and simple step.


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