When was the last time you thought about breathing? There are things we take for granted that we do every day, and breathing is one of them. In fact, the average adult takes about 23,000 breathes each day and the average child takes about 43,000. Breathing is essential to life and everyone should have the right to breathe clean air.
Air pollution occurs when the air contains gases, dust, fumes, or odors that make it harmful to breathe. Substances that cause air pollution are called pollutants and include particulate matter (soot), ozone, lead, and carbon dioxide. Since 1750, humans have released more pollutants into the air than ever before due to industrialization, urbanization and mass agriculture. For example, 375 billion tons of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere from human activities since the start of the industrial era (World Meteorological Organization). Pollutants come from sources like electric utilities, motor vehicles, wildfires and even sources within our own homes. Air pollutants lower our air quality and can cause serious health problems such as:
- Heart attacks and strokes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Reduced fertility
- Lung cancer
Air pollution affects all people. However, it can have a more serious impact on sensitive members of our community such as the young, elderly, people with low socioeconomic status and those with certain pre-existing health conditions. These facts demonstrate the widespread health effects of poor air quality:
- About 1 in 12 children (6.3 million) in the U.S.. have asthma (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)
- 1 in 3 Americans has heart or blood vessel disease and is at higher risk from air pollution (U.S.. Environmental Protection Agency)
- Air pollution causes about 200,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S.. (MIT)
Environmental Health (EH) professionals play a large role in the reduction and prevention of air pollution through monitoring and education programs. The Clean Air Act is a law that protects our air quality by regulating emissions of hazardous pollutants from stationary and mobile sources and authorizes the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to improve public health and welfare. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is an index for reporting daily air quality. It tells you how clean or polluted your air is and what associated health effects might be a concern for you.
Environmental Health Saves Lives, Saves Money, and Protects Our Future
Environmental Health professionals ensure the air we breathe is safe by testing and monitoring air in the places we live and work.
NEHA Air Quality Resources
E-learning Opportunities – NEHA has select air quality educational opportunities available online. These sessions also provide continuing education credit for NEHA members.
Journal of Environmental Health – The Journal of Environmental Health is published 10 times per year by the National Environmental Health Association and keeps readers up-to-date on current issues, new research, useful products and services, and employment opportunities. We frequently cover issues of importance to air quality professionals, and reprints are available through Content Editor.
Community Calendar – Many NEHA affiliate conferences and other conferences have sessions related to air quality. Check our calendar periodically to find events of interest.
Other Air Quality Resources
CDC Air Quality – CDC has resources for the general public and EH professionals on air pollutants, public health issues, research and data.
EPA's AirData – The AirData website gives access to air quality data collected at outdoor monitors across the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U. S. Virgin Islands.
EPA's AirNow – The AIRNow website provides the general public with easy access to national air-quality information. It offers daily air-quality forecasts as well as real-time air quality for over 275 cities across the United States.
EPA's Indoor Air Quality for Schools – EPA provides resources, trainings and toolkits for teachers and EH professionals on topics such as radon, asthma, energy savings in schools.
NASA Air Quality – NASA has air quality maps and data taken from space, as well as news and resources for EH professionals.
American Lung Association's State of the Air: The ALA's State of the Air report organizes air quality by county and includes yearly rankings.