Air Pollution – A Toxic Exposure That Can Lead to Ill Health

It comes as no surprise that air pollution is a source of toxic exposure that can lead to ill health. In fact, it’s estimated that 5.5 million people die of diseases attributed to breathing polluted air. I grew up in Los Angeles, California in the 50’s and 60’s when the quality of air in Southern California was becoming very poor. We had numerous “smog alerts” when I was in school. But air pollution isn’t only about the “outdoor” air we breathe, but also, importantly, the “indoor” air we also breathe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a report on environmentally related deaths1. In this report, they wrote that one in four deaths were related to living and working in a toxic environment. Air pollution was the biggest single contributor to this risk. Air pollution is a major contributor to such diseases like lung and respiratory infections, heart disease and cancer. Water pollution is a significant contributor to diarrheal diseases and infant mortality. It’s estimated that 4,500 to 7,500 children die each day worldwide from the water they drink.

Short-Term Exposure to Air Pollution Affects Your Diabetes Risk

American researchers found that exposure to air pollution for as little as one to two months may be enough to increase the risk of diabetes, especially if you are obese2. The mechanism behind this link is unclear, but the study showed that Mexican-Americans living in Southern California were found to have an increased risk of impaired blood sugar control and insulin resistance as well as high cholesterol levels after only a short-term exposure to air contaminants.

Michael Jerrett is the director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of California. He feels that people living in areas with high air pollution levels would be wise to take some common sense precautions to limit exposure. Some of these suggestions are listed to the right.

Common Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

A 2009 study4 examined the air inside 52 ordinary homes near the Arizona-Mexican border. The researchers found that indoor air in these houses was far more contaminated than previous thought. Almost 600 chemicals were identified. This included the pesticides diazinon, chloropyrifos and DDT (which was banned in the US more than 20 years ago). What’s scarier is that the researchers detected 120 chemicals that couldn’t be identified. Phthalates (a gender-bender or hormone distruptor) was also found in elevated levels.

Precautions to Limit Air Pollution

  1. Limit outdoor exercise or activities during peak commuting hours when the air quality is poorest
  2. Avoid running, riding bikes or working along major highways as much as possible
  3. When indoors, use a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) on your furnace and/or air conditioning unit to filter out the toxic particulates from the air outside as well as the toxic fumes that come from inside your home or apartment
  4. Carefully watch the Air Quality Index (AQI) which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases that calculates five major air pollutants (ground-level ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide). If the AQI is high, stay indoors as much as possible
  5. If you live in a heavily polluted area, your best option is to move if possible to avoid long-term health issues
Pollutants Sources
 Bioaerosols (airborne bacteria, viruses, etc.)  Humans, pets, humidifiers, wet surfaces, ventilation systems. These can cause Legionnaires’ Disease and “humidifier fever”
 Molds (including Aspergillus, Stachybotrys (“Black Mold”) and Penicillium  Water damage, high humidity regions and humid areas in the home
 By-products of Combustion (including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide)  Unvented gas or kerosene heaters, gas appliances, fireplaces, chimneys, furnaces, tobacco smoke and automobile exhaust from attached garages.
 Tobacco smoke (including second-hand smoke)  Cigarettes, pipes and cigars – these items can release mixtures of over 4,000 compounds. This includes residuals trapped on clothes, furniture and drapes.
 Formaldehyde (used as a preservative. Found in embalming fluid and other household items.  Pressed wood products like hardwoods, plywood, fiberboard (especially from China as reported by CBS 60 Minutes. Also found in urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, mattresses, clothing, nail polish, glues, adhesives. Automobile exhaust also contains formaldehyde.
 Arsenic  Pressure-treated wood products used in decks and playground equipment. These wood products can be treated with arsenic-containing pesticides. Arsenic is also sometimes found in fluoridated water.
 VOCs (Volatile Organic Chemicals)  VOCs are found in paints, solvents, aerosol sprays, wood preservatives, cleaners and disinfectants. If you have a home office, VOCs can be found there too from copy machines, printers or fax machines. Some air fresheners also contain VOCs.
 Phthalates (plasticizers)  Vinyl flooring, food packaging (plastic bags, liners, bottles), shower curtains, wall papers and coverings. Also found in personals care products such as deodorants. Many adhesives, toys, detergents and PVC piping contain phthalates.
 Pesticides  Pest control poisons, garden and lawn chemicals. Can also be found in your carpets or on your wood or tile floors if the bottom of your shoes come in contact with these chemicals when you walk through a sprayed area.
 Asbestos  Deteriorating or damaged insulation, fireproofing or acoustical materials
 Heavy Metals  Heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium can be found in paints, cars, tobacco smoke, soil and dust and in huge industrial pollutants
 Radon  Second leading cause of lung cancer. Found in granite, well water, soil, outside air, smoke detectors, watches and clocks.

How to Minimize Air and Water Pollution For You and Your Family

One of the best ways to minimize pollution in your home air or from any water source is by using the Puritii Air and Water Filtration Systems. The Puritii Air Purification System provides high-capacity air purification with an 11-stage filter that removes up to 99.99% of particulates, microbes and dangerous gasses from your home. The Puritii Water Filtration System delivers the cleanest possible filtered water, removing toxins, destroying pathogens and leaving your water safe, clean and fresh. For more information or to order these products, click on the image to the right.


1World Health Organization March 15, 2016
2Diabetes Care February 11, 2016, DOI:10.2337/dc15-1795
3Reuters March 16, 2016
4Environmental Health Sciences April 28, 2009