Air pollution is a mixture of gasses and particulate matter, including vehicle exhaust, smoke, industrial emissions, and road dust. In some communities, pollen from plants and trees also contributes to poor air quality seasonally.
Poor air quality affects our health, even when we don't know it. With every breath you take, air quality affects your overall well being. Poor air quality can cause everything from migraine headaches in adults to premature birth and sudden infant death syndrome in infants.
According to the EPA, the number of carbon emissions, NO2, and lead in the air has been steadily decreasing overall.
But certain neighborhoods and low-income areas are still suffering from poor air quality.
There are inequalities in air quality throughout the nation, summed up in these statistics:
Air quality problems aren't strictly occurring in low-income neighborhoods or even major metropolitan areas known for industrial pollution and traffic. Julian Marshall, a UW professor, says, "While every community is unique, there are some factors that play out over and over again consistently across our country. If we go state by state, there's no place where there are no environmental justice concerns."
But how can individuals and community leaders measure air quality? What does the air quality index mean? What is the EPA Clean Air Act, and how does it affect your community? The team at Just Air is here to help. We'll answer all these questions today, explain how air quality affects your health, and what you can do about it.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the Air Quality Index (AQI) to measure air pollution levels of both ozone and particulate materials. You'll sometimes see air quality issues described on your local news using AQI.
Think of AQI as a measuring stick ranging from 0 to 500, where:
Five major air pollutants known to be hazardous to our health include:
Now that we've answered your question, "what does air quality index mean?" it's time to talk about how air quality affects health.
Slightly poor air quality can affect the health of sensitive individuals. Newborns, the elderly, and people with asthma and allergies are usually the first to feel immediate effects. As the air quality in your neighborhood gets worse, more people struggle. The consequences of poor air quality are exacerbated on very hot days.
Both short-term and long-term exposure to pollutants can cause a host of health problems. Individuals with respiratory challenges like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are often the first to suffer from asthma attacks, uncontrollable coughing, and wheezing.
Poor air quality increases your risk of respiratory infections like bronchitis, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
Probably, yes. One study of 18,921 patients who went to the hospital for severe migraines found that poor air quality may trigger migraines, especially on hot days.
The EPA says yes. Poor air quality can cause asthma attacks, especially in children. African-American adolescents, kids in low-income areas, and those who live in medical deserts — areas of the US that have little access to immediate health care — tend to suffer most.
Children in low-income communities have less access to healthcare. Sometimes it's because hospitals and facilities are far away and only accessed by public transportation. Sometimes it's because parents cannot afford medical care beyond emergencies. And among African American children particularly, genetic tendencies for respiratory or circulatory issues like Sickle Cell disease are more common.
Yes. Per the American Association for Cancer Research (AARC), there is a definite link between poor air quality and your risk for certain types of cancer. Air quality also seems to affect the severity (and mortality rate) associated with:
Of all these types of cancer, breast cancer in both males and females seems to be affected most by poor air quality. Per AARC, individuals with breast cancer exposed to very poor air for a few years have a mortality rate of 80%.
According to the EPA, poor air quality can damage your heart. When you inhale pollutants, they travel through your entire circulatory system, including your heart. Combine this with issues like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and the results can be deadly.
There are plenty of studies regarding air quality and heart health. In May 2016, Dr. Joel Kaufman published a study that found long-term exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen oxides can prematurely age blood vessels and contribute to the buildup of calcium in the coronary artery. This calcium buildup restricts blood flow to the heart and major blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes.
All this research, performed by various groups and organizations in the US and worldwide, tells us that poor air quality is bad for our health. But this is something we already knew.
We're here to help. At JustAir, we know good air quality is essential to a healthy community. It's our mission to make all communities, but particularly underserved communities, aware of the risks of air pollution and provide them with resources they can trust to monitor the air they breathe.
From the design and implementation of air quality monitoring systems, through their calibration and data collection, to informing the residents of harmful air quality conditions, JustAir can keep your community healthier. Contact us now to learn more about air quality monitoring systems, or download our app to see it in action in Grand Rapids, MI.