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How Did Air Pollution Become A Public Health Crisis?

By April 2, 2019 May 4th, 2020 No Comments
12–14 minutes to read

Learn why air pollution has grown to become a huge public health crisis and how clean indoor air quality courtesy of home air filters can mitigate the problem.

If you thought we had already solved the problem of air pollution with the passing of the Clean Air Act, think again. Air pollution seems to be on the rise, forcing homeowners and families indoors to consider the protection of high efficiency home air filters. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just cars and trucks that are filling our cities with particle pollution and all kinds of toxic fumes.

So why exactly has air pollution grown to become such an issue?

Solving the Health Crisis of Air Pollution with Home Air Filters

“All human life depends on the ability to breathe,” explains Camfil USA’s Charlie Seyffer, Manager of Marketing & Technical Materials for commercial air filters and 37-year ASHRAE member and active committee participant. “The average person breathes 11,000 liters a day and approximately 265 million liters of air throughout their entire lifespan.”

That’s a lot of air going through the lungs every minute of the day. So, it’s no surprise why walking through a busy street filled with cars also means breathing millions of particles in a single lungful.

The problem has become so bad that toxic air has been identified by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as the biggest environmental risk of premature death, responsible for one in nine of all deaths around the world.

In fact, air pollution, whether from outdoor or indoor sources, claims over million lives a year—far more than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV combined. Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, went so far as to call it a “global public health emergency.”

Indoor Air Quality Just as Important as Ambient Air Quality

While most discussions about air pollution are centered on ambient or outdoor air quality, air pollution that comes from indoor sources is just as harmful to human health. In fact, poor indoor air quality as a result of cooking with solid fuels is responsible for 3.8 million deaths every year, or around 7.7 percent of the global mortality, according to the WHO.

The burning of solid fuels like dung, coal and wood in open hearths or inefficient cookstoves produces a wide range of hazardous pollutants, including:

  • Methane
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Particulate matter (PM)
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Even the burning of kerosene in wick lamps produces toxic fine particulate matter and other types of pollutants from the combustion process.

“Particulate matter (PM) is a particularly dangerous airborne pollutant,” says Seyffer. “Several studies have proven a direct correlation between PM exposure and negative health effects ranging from asthma, increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and even diabetes of all things.”

Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5 which is particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, pose a serious health concern because they can reach deep into the small alveoli of the lungs where oxygen exchanges with carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. In fact, these particles can be carried by the blood and make their way into the body’s tissues and vital organs, causing all kinds of systemic health effects.

Exposure to indoor air pollution increases the risk of adverse health impacts in both adults and children, ranging from respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), to cancer, eye problems, and even neurodegenerative disease.

The Cost of Air Pollution Raises Need for Home Air Purifiers

The damage to health and loss of life caused by air pollution also presents a significant economic burden, making commercial and home air purifiers important in offices and other workplaces.

According to World Bank Report published in 2016, poor air quality was cited as the cause of more than $225 billion in lost labor income in 2013 alone. And if you adjust for welfare losses, the financial damage of air pollution adds up to $5.11 trillion per year, which the report notes is a serious wake-up call for government officials, business leaders, and healthcare professionals among others.

The dangers posed by air pollution are especially pronounced in the developing world, where the combination of rampant burning of solid fuels, construction activities, industrialization, and poor regulatory controls have led to major smog episodes that last days, sometimes weeks at a time.

This isn’t to say that air pollution is a new phenomenon. We’re aware that dirty air isn’t good for our health, yet no one lists air pollution exposure as the cause of death on their death certificate. It’s only been in recent decades that the damage of air pollution exposure has been made clear, proving that it is a public health crisis that is worse than previously thought.

Who Needs Home Air Purification Systems?

Almost everyone can benefit from having home air purification systems in their households. In fact, the WHO estimates that over 90 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds its air quality guidelines. As mentioned earlier, the problem is worse in developing parts of the world, particularly South Asia and Southeast Asia, where a significant portion of the world’s population lives. The common denominators are a high volume of vehicle traffic, dirty industrialization, and uncontrolled burning of solid fuels and waste.

It should come as no surprise why investments in air filter technology are being encouraged in India and China—the former is home to half of the world’s top cities for worst air quality, the latter has eight.

Not even the United States, which led the fight against air pollution with the Clean Air Act, has completely solved the problem. Sure, a lot of headway has been made to improve air quality in urban centers, but cities like Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Modesto, San Diego, and Salt Lake are among several others that continue to struggle meeting the recommended guidelines for air quality.

Different Types of Air Pollution Call for Different Home Air Filtration Systems

We know that the most dangerous type of air pollution is particulate matter—it’s the pollutant that’s been studied and tested the most. These particles damage the lungs, enter the bloodstream, and reach vital organs, causing all kinds of health problems. The good news is that home air filtration systems are pretty good at capturing and removing particulate matter (PM), whether it’s black carbon, mineral dust, pet dander, sulfates, or ammonia.

But you also have other types of air pollution that are no less dangerous. Nitrogen dioxide, for example, is a pollutant typically generated by diesel engines that reacts with other pollutants in the air to create ground-level ozone and particulate matter. But nitrogen dioxide can also damage the lungs when inhaled. Likewise, sulfur dioxide and ground-level ozone can harm people and even crops, affecting crop yields by as much as 28 percent.

Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone are gaseous pollutants that need a specific type of filter media, one that absorbs gases or fumes. This media is where filter materials like activated carbon come in, which behave like a sponge that traps gaseous molecules—a process called molecular filtration.

Choose Air Filtration Systems from a Reliable Air Filter Manufacturer

For regular home use, high efficiency air filtration systems are a safe choice for ensuring any air that flows through your HVAC system is clean and safe to breathe. You can use a combination of a high efficiency and activated carbon filter for the best results. In any case, be sure to work with a reliable air filter manufacturer to get solutions that are actually appropriate for your home’s needs.

Get in touch with Camfil USA Air Filters to talk about our home air filter solutions. Our team is on standby to answer all of your questions about maintaining good indoor air quality in homes, commercial buildings, offices, schools, hospitals, or any other facility.


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Lynne Laake

Camfil USA Air Filters

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