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What's In The Air We Breathe?

Have you ever wondered what's in the air we breathe and how this air affects your health?

The quality of the air, both indoors and outside, has a direct impact on the our health. The average person breathes approximately 8 million cubic feet of air throughout a lifetime. That's enough air to fill over 40 giant blimps! It's no wonder there's a direct link between the air we breathe and the overall health of our bodies.

Air pollution affects everyone, but children and the elderly are especially sensitive to its harmful affects. Individuals with heart or other respiratory illnesses are especially susceptible to the effects of air pollution, but even our strongest athletes are vulnerable to poor air quality.

What we often consider as “moderate” air pollution can cause permanent damage to children's lungs, limiting what would otherwise be their full, normal development. According to the California Air Resources Board, dirty air is responsible for slowing down the lung function growth rate of children by up to 10%. Research also found that children who live in the smoggier parts of Southern California experience slower lung growth than those who breathe cleaner air.

Many different kinds of air pollutants are released into the sky and captured in our lungs with every breath we take. Each of these pollutants affects our body in a specific way and each can cause serious health problems. The listing below explains where some of the main outdoor pollutants come from, how they impact our bodies and ways we can reduce that pollution!

Pollutant: Ozone (O3)

Source: Produced when gases or vapors created by cars, solvents, factories, and pesticides mix and react in the presence of sunlight.
Health Effects: Breathing difficulties, lung tissue damage, coughing and chest pains.
Ways to Help: Reduce and limit emissions created by cars, consumer products, and some types of business and manufacturing activities.

Pollutant: Particulate Matter (PM10) and Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)

Source: Power plants, dust, construction, burning, cars, industry, and equipment.
Health Effects: Coughs, phlegm, wheezing, asthma, cancer, lung damage, heart attacks, and premature death.
Ways to Help: Control dust sources, industrial emissions, and residential burning. Reduce emissions from motor vehicles, equipment, and industry. Conserve energy.

Pollutant: Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Source: Cars, heavy construction and farming equipment, and residential heating.
Health Effects: Chest pain in heart patients, headaches, and reduced mental alertness.
Ways to Help: Control motor vehicle and industrial emissions. Use oxygenated gasoline during winter months. Conserve energy.

Pollutant: Nitrogen Dioxide(NO2)

Source: See CO
Health Effects: Lung irritation and damage.
Ways to Help: Control emissions from motor vehicles and industrial sources. Conserve energy.

Pollutant: Lead (Pb)

Source: Metal smelters, resource recovery, leaded gasoline, and deterioration of lead paint.
Health Effects: Learning disabilities, brain and kidney damage.
Ways to Help: Control metal smelters. No lead in gasoline. Replace leaded paint with non-lead substitute.

Pollutant: Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

Source: Coal or oil burning power plants and industries, refineries, and diesel engines.
Health Effects: Constricts air passages and reacts with lung tissue. Increases lung disease and breathing problems for asthmatics.
Ways to Help: Reduce use of high sulfur fuels. Conserve energy.

Pollutant: Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)

Source: Geothermal power plants, petroleum production and refining, sewer gas.
Health Effects: Rotten egg smell, headache and breathing difficulties.
Ways to Help: Control emissions from geothermal power plants, petroleum production and refining, sewers, and sewage treatment plants.

In addition to the pollutants described above, several hundred other airborne substances are known to cause serious health problems. Known toxic, hazardous or allergenic air pollutants range from benzene vapors, to the particulate matter in diesel exhaust, to radon, formaldehyde, mold spores and dust mite debris found in indoor air.

Indoor air pollution can also have significant impacts on public health. Especially since on average, Californians spend 87% of their time indoors and the concentrations of many pollutants indoors exceed those outdoors. Clean indoor air quality is a key factor for our respiratory health.

For more information on the affects air pollution has on our health check out the web sites listed below:

Outdoor Air Quality

Physicians for Social Responsibility: Air Pollution and Health

American Lung Association of California

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Division of Air and Radiation

Indoor Air Quality

EPA's Indoor Air Quality Page

EPA's Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals


Contact us for more information on this topic.