If you have ever wondered about meditation or stress reduction one of the first things you will be told is to simply pause and take a deep breath. This is great advice; the oxygen that our lungs pull from the air rejuvenates us. Oxygen gives us energy, keeps our cells alive and makes us feel alert. With a deep breath you can alleviate immediate stress and prepare to tackle the problem at hand. But what if that breath brings with it not only oxygen but pollutants and dangerous particles? Let’s take a look.
The Danger in Our Air We often hear about automotive emissions in term of depletion of our ozone layer and global warming. We hear about the dangers of consuming foods laced with pesticides or consuming water that has been polluted. But fossil fuel emissions, manufacturing waste, pesticides and much more are making their way into not just our waterways or our upper atmosphere, but into the common air that we breathe. These particles and emissions become contaminants in our air that we commonly refer to as “pollution.” Particulates range from pieces of dust or debris that we can see to microscopic particles only a fraction as wide as a human hair. No matter their size, these particles and pollution are damaging our bodies in ways that we are only beginning to understand.
The Research Reveals the Facts We have all heard of smog in cities and even seen overcast days that are caused more by air pollutants than the condensation of moisture and low lying clouds. We recognize, on some intuitive level, that our vehicles, manufacturing facilities and construction projects are sending unwanted particulates into our air, yet we seemingly ignore the knowledge. Most people know that they should wear a respirator or dusk mask while sanding wood, working with lead dust or asbestos, or working with heavy vapors (even if few people truly wear them), but these large particles are not the only cause of serious problems in people. These particulates take up residence in our atmosphere and cause a variety of problems. Pollution is commonly believed to contribute to asthma, allergies and skin conditions. Now, studies reveal even deeper depths to the danger that air pollution poses. In fact, we have learned the following:
- Multiple studies have shown a strong correlation between exposure to particulates and impairment of brain functions after just four years of exposure. The higher the levels of both fine and course particles in the air the worse the brain damage was.
- One study at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that air pollution, even at rates considered safe by most federal government regulations, can increase a person’s risk of stroke by 34 percent.
- Another study found a direct correlation between the number of strokes and the patient’s exposure to traffic areas when the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air quality index indicated high particulate matter. Harvard researchers have also found a direct correlation between strokes and air pollution.
- Researchers have associated microscopic air particulates with increased incidence of heart attacks and other cardiovascular disease.
Some of these damaging particles are so small that we have no way to see them with our naked eye – they can be just one thirtieth the diameter of a human hair, yet still be highly dangerous. In addition to damaging our cognitive (thinking) abilities, air pollutants can cause problems with our hearts and cardiovascular system as well.
The Role We All Play Many medical professionals and researchers have asserted that correcting air pollution could have a huge impact on global community health – it is a risk factor for disease that is very curable. In fact, some researchers believe that if we can reduce certain pollutants by just 20 percent we can prevent over six thousand strokes per year in the United States alone. The first step is for us to educate ourselves. We need to be aware of the problems that air pollution is causing to our health and that of our children. Then, we need to demand that things change. We need to demand this of our politicians through our votes and our expressing our feelings. And we need to demand changes of the company’s that we buy from through how we spend our money.