Researchers comparing air quality in six U.S. cities were “stunned” to learn “that people living in cities with the dirtiest air died on average two years earlier than residents of cities with the cleanest air. The difference in death rates was linked to elevated levels of fine-particle pollution.”
Lung diseases like cancer, emphysema, fibrosis, and asthma are almost all initiated or aggravated by the inhalation of particles and gases, reports Joseph Brain, Drinker professor of environmental physiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
The tiniest airborne pollution particles are the most dangerous. That's because they are so small that you can breathe them deep into your lungs. They are respirable-size particles, or RSPs. The slightly larger particles, such as pollen, dander and house-dust allergens, don't penetrate your lungs as deeply, but they can cause debilitating allergic responses.
Infants and children are the most vulnerable.
Their lungs are least able to defend against these small particles called RSPs. To describe the difference in an unforgettable way, imagine this scene, according to Rick Rogers, senior research scientist at HSPH:
“If a mom and her seven-year-old are at a bus stop, standing in the wake of a departing bus’ burst of diesel exhaust, the child’s lungs will take in two and a half times the dose of particles as the mother’s. That startling effect is because of differences - between an adult and a child - in the surface to lung volume, metabolic rate, and activity.
Of course, any air pollution in the home will also have a much greater effect on children.
Fine Particles in the Air Can Also Cause Lung Problems and Heart Attacks.
15 years into the six-city study the HSBP researchers were surprised again.
People were losing lung function, but what was killing them were cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and dysrhythmias. And it was fine particles from power plants and other combustion sources such as automobiles and home heating that showed the strongest associations with these deaths. This study is the most cited air-pollution paper in existence.
Act Now to Prevent Your Children From Losing Lung Capacity as They Age
Children's lung damage caused by these fine particles worsens as they age. At first these fine particles cause “only” a small, yet permanent reduction in lung function. That is not as bad when they are young and have plenty of reserve lung capacity. But as they age, they will lose about 1 percent of their lung function per year (1.5 percent for smokers). After 50 years, in their early seventies, that’s a 50 percent reduction in lung capacity (75 percent in smokers).
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