Most Americans live in cities and the segregation of humans from the natural environment into artificial, machine operated, fossil fuel run environment results in people spending over 90% of their lives inside of buildings. Many of us spend more time in our cars than we do outside so we cannot talk just about outdoor air pollution but must investigate indoor air pollution.

Because of the increase in building energy efficiency resulting in more airtight construction the effect became “sick building syndrome”. By plugging the flow of air, we have trapped airborne toxins inside of our buildings. We have since come to the realization that fresh air is needed for people to be healthy in buildings. We have also discovered that the things we make buildings out of and the things we put in and use in buildings could pollute the interior air and affect the inhabitant’s health.

In the EPA report to Congress On Indoor Air Quality, the EPA study showed that indoor air is often more polluted than outside air and it estimated health and productivity costs to be in the tens of billions of dollars. The study changed radon gas leaking into buildings from the ground with being the second leading cause of lung cancer in America after cigarettes. In some regions of the country buildings tested with radon levels the equivalent health hazard to smoking twenty packs of cigarettes a day.

Chances are we all suffer some minor health effects of indoor air. We are more likely to get colds and flu’s in winter when we close buildings up. Many of us suffer weakened immune systems, fatigue, headaches and sore eyes as a result of polluted indoor air. We have chosen to live inside artificial environments without first understanding how they impact our health.

Outdoor Air Pollution

Outdoor air pollutants include ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and other pollutants. Primary sources are motor vehicles, coal burning power plants and industrial facilities. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because relative to body weight and lung surface they breathe more air per pound than adults. They also spend more time outdoors when pollutant rates are highest and tend to be more active when they are outdoors which increases breathing rates and therefore exposure to pollutants in the air.

Air pollutants are associated with increased acute respiratory illness and symptoms such as worsening of asthma and reduced lung function. Close to five million children in the United States under the age of eighteen have asthma, the most common chronic illness among children.

Our lungs are among the body’s primary points of contact with the outside world. We breathe in an estimated 15,000 liters of air, approximately 6 to 10 liters every minute, drawing life-giving oxygen across 600 to 900 square feet of surface area in tiny sacs inside the lung. Oxygen is necessary for our muscles to function. In fact, the purpose of exercise training is to improve the body’s ability to deliver oxygen. As a result, when we exercise, we may increase our intake of air by as much as ten times our level at rest. An endurance athlete can process as much as twenty times the normal intake. Mouth breathing during exercise bypasses the nasal passages, the body’s natural air filter. These facts mean that when we exercise in polluted air, we increase our contact with the pollutants and increase our vulnerability to health damage.

The interaction between air pollution and exercise is so strong that health scientists typically use exercising volunteers in their research. Research has found that air pollution can reduce breathing ability, cause chest pain, coughing, wheezing and other physical irritation. Air pollution can interfere with the workings of the lungs, heart and other organs. It can aggravate asthma and other chronic lung and heart diseases.

What can we do about all this? Be alert to the weather warnings in your area. Since the highest levels of ozone are in the afternoon, use the morning and evening hours for your outdoor activity. Pollution levels are often given with weather reports. Limit vigorous exercise when ozone levels are at or above 100. Avoid congested streets and rush hour traffic. Make sure your children’s teachers, coaches and recreation officials know about air pollution and schedule activities at the proper time of day. Most importantly, be aware of the quality of air you breathe.

Noise Pollution

There are all kinds of noises. Some provide enjoyment through listening to music, children laughing, birds singing, etc. The gentle breeze wafting through the trees or the sound of the ocean lapping at the shore can bring us much joy. There are other sounds that bring us stress and displeasure – traffic at rush hour, planes overhead, trains blowing their horns at crossings. Noise annoys, awakens, angers and frustrates people. It disrupts communication and individual thoughts and brings on stress thus detracting from the quality of people’s lives and their environment.

The solution is not a simple one, but we can all do our part. Turn down the TV, stereo and radio. Quietly listen to the person you are having a conversation with. If you speak softly, you will be able to communicate with your loved ones and they will be much more receptive to what you have to say.

The other types of noise pollution are more difficult to try to change but keeping abreast of the types of noise legislation being enacted in your locality and letting your representative know your feelings about it is the best way to attain the desired results.

Vol 21 Issue 1 page 4

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