Warmer temperatures and longer days often make for more time spent outside during the summer months. Most people are unaware, however, that the combination of increased outdoor activity and heat-induced air pollution may make for heightened health risks. While we don’t want to rain on your Summer sunshine parade, it’s important to understand the invisible threats at play this season, and the tools for beating them.
Millions of microscopic particles from dust, soot, pollen, metals, and organic compounds are frequently present in the air we breathe. Generally invisible to the human eye, these airborne particles are effortlessly inhaled, usually without our knowing.
Particle pollution, annotated as PM10 (Particulate Matter 10 micrometers or smaller) and PM2.5 (Particulate Matter 2.5 micrometers or smaller), is matter so small that it is often suspended in the air for long periods of time, before settling.
As summer is often the season for home repairs and construction projects, particle pollution resulting from drilling, sawing, and sanding can become problematic.
Health risks increase when handling toxic materials, including previously popular components like lead and asbestos. Asbestos, for example, is notorious for its microscopic particles that are easily airborne and do not degrade. Although its use has been strictly regulated in most countries for decades, structures containing asbestos can be found all over, despite the mineral’s link to fatal diseases such as mesothelioma.
Combustion is another common source of particle pollution, and PM2.5 specifically. Agricultural burning practices, travel-induced vehicular emissions, and the increased threat of wildfires in the summertime can all contribute to worrisome pollution levels. The impacts of which, can be felt on both an environmental and public health level. It can worsen visibility, alter land fertility, and increase acidic properties in water, while causing eye, nose, and throat irritation, lung issues, heart attacks, and higher likelihood of complications in those with preexisting lung or heart conditions.
Ozone and Smog
Ozone can have negative and positive connotations. In terms of air pollution, bad ozone, or tropospheric ozone, is a gas that develops in the lower atmosphere. It is created from nitrogen oxide gas and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) reacting with oxygen as a result of sunlight. While ozone pollution is most prominent in cities and suburban areas as a result of pollution emitted by vehicles, high levels can also be found in rural locations downwind from industrial sites.
Ozone becomes particularly potent during the summertime when it’s presence is often accompanied with smog. Ozone and smog have direct ties to inflammation and respiratory irritation, which can contribute to chronic illnesses like asthma and cardiovascular diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that mortality rates increase by 0.3 percent each time ozone levels increase by 5 ppb. Meanwhile, Ozone also poses a serious threat to our environment, as increased levels inhibit plants from photosynthesizing, stunt growth and limit oxygen production.
Although the threat Ozone poses can be quite serious, its effects can be reversed through sustainable initiatives. Limiting fossil fuel use, switching to natural energy sources, and taking simple steps like planting more trees and reducing our carbon footprint will make a sizable impact overtime in reducing bad ozone.
Reduce your risk of exposure
To ensure you are breathing clean air this summer, keep an eye on otherwise invisible air pollution with the AirVisual air quality app. Set alerts to notify you when air quality becomes unhealthy, and take action to reduce your exposure.
Meanwhile, try to avoid or take care when working at, or approaching, construction sites - especially those that may contain asbestos. For more information about asbestos and mesothelioma, visit our friends at mesothelioma.com