The risks to health from air pollution are largely invisible today in the industrial world yet air pollution is a leading environmental cause of cancer. In years past, polluted air resulted in shocking episodes of deadly killer smog. EHT’s Dr. Davis documented the Donora Smog in her book When Smoke Ran Like Water of the five days in October, 1948 when 20 persons dropped dead after a lethal smog descended on the small Monongahela Valley steel town of Donora, Pennsylvania.
China and India are experiencing the same sorts of poisonous episodes of air pollution today similar to Donora, Pennsylvania in 1948 and London, England in 1952. The sources of this pollution largely stem from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline to produce electricity and power our vehicles and industry emissions. Until stronger standards to reduce toxic emissions industries are implemented, harmful toxic chemicals will continue to pollute the air, threatening public health.
1997: Scientists State That Inaction Will Lead To Preventable Deaths
Evidence developed by Dr. Davis and colleagues and published in the Lancet on the toxic impact of polluted air provided the foundation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1995-2004 to advise that if current patterns of pollution in the 1990s were not changed to burn fewer fossil fuels, then 8 million avoidable deaths would occur by 2020 around the world.
2013: 7 Million Premature Deaths Annually Linked to Air Pollution
In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. “This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.” Read the World Health Organization press release.
“The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances,” said Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Section. “We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.”
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Science Blog: Air pollution classified as a human carcinogen in 2013.
Even healthy people can experience air pollution-related symptoms such as watery eyes, breathing difficulties, coughing, or wheezing. Your actual risk depends on your current health status, the pollutant type and concentration, and the length of your exposure to the polluted air.
People most susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution are those with heart disease, lung disease, outdoor workers, athletes who exercise outdoors, pregnant women and children under age 14, as their lungs are still developing.
Increasing levels of smog are associated with increased hospital admission rates and death for people with respiratory diseases such as asthma, and worsens the health of people suffering from cardiac or pulmonary disease. High pollution adds stress to the heart and lungs, which must work harder to supply the body with oxygen. Damaged cells in the respiratory system
Long-term exposure to polluted air can have permanent health effects:
- Accelerated aging of the lungs
- Loss of lung capacity
- Decreased lung function
- Development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly cancer
- Shortened life span
Approximately 158 million Americans live in counties where air pollution exceeds national health-based standards.
The Ozone Hole Tour – This tour explores the loss of ozone over Antarctica and what’s being done to avert a growing environmental crisis.
The Tribune Democrat: Report on Environment Critical of Power Plants
- The report, “Dirty Energy’s Assualt on our Health: Mercury,” details the most polluting plants and points to RRI Energy Inc. Keystone Power Plant in Shelocta as the second-most polluting plant for mercury emissions in the country. The report says it emits 2,164 pounds of mercury every year.
The Lancet: Short-term improvements in public health from global-climate policies on fossil-fuel combustion: an interim report Devra Lee Davis, Working Group on Public Health and Fossil-Fuel Combustion