Human illness and disease can be attributed to two variables; genetics and environment. This paper will explore the possible environmental effects that air pollution has on the pulmonary functions of the human body. As your lungs are an essential organ to keep a person alive, we should minimize any causes that can harm them. The current population lives in one of the most technologically advanced eras in terms of health care. However, the naivety of some people leaves their knowledge of carbon monoxide and other toxic air pollutants absent.
Keywords: Pulmonary disease, air pollution, carbon monoxide, genetics vs. environment.
The Gas Catalyst of Human Health
Since the mid-19th century industrial boom, air quality has been waxing and waning due to air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ground-level ozone. Each of these pollutants increased during the time period due to industrial emissions, fossil fuel burnings, transportation, and waste production. Unknowingly, this increase not only led to high levels of air pollution, a prominent factor of climate change, but also may have been attributed to several pulmonary issues among humans.
Out of the typical emissions, as stated above, there is a single emission that sticks out the most concerning the others. This emission is carbon monoxide. According to an emission survey that was first conducted in 1970, carbon monoxide has been the leading emission for the past 50 years, which is indicated in figure 1 of Appendix A (Tiseo, 2021). Although it is evident that carbon monoxide emissions are decreasing at a significant rate, the remainder of emissions has remained at a constant rate. According to the Nature Conservancy organization:
The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average carbon footprint is closer to 4 tons. To have the best chance of avoiding a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop to under 2 tons by 2050.
In order to bring rates down, the world must work together to lower the carbon footprint, a measurement of how much a single person creates carbon compounds.
The majority of carbon monoxide emissions are accredited to gas-powered vehicles. The percentage of emissions has been going down, almost 95% of emissions have been reduced, but a single car with high emissions rates can still be harmful to the environment (Greiner, 1998). With the creation of the sustainable electric vehicles from Tesla, they have created a new era of vehicles that emit no emissions. As more money gets poured into learning how to make them even more affordable, electric cars will soon be the go-to. This will eventually make the carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles minimal to none.
As humans, we want to do the best for our bodies in order to keep them healthy. However, there are some instances where we can’t control what goes into our bodies. Humans require several components and variables to function throughout the day. One of these necessities is the air we breathe. The basic makeup of the air we breathe is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, and small percentages of other gasses. Yet, what would happen if the standard composition of the atmosphere was disrupted? Fortunately, the Air Quality Index (AQI) was created. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the AQI was created with the intent to “tell how clean or unhealthy the air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern” (EPA, 2014). The AQI allows us to determine the best course of action and what to look for if the air quality is poor on a particular day.
The importance of air quality strongly relates to our pulmonary and cardiac functions. The primary diseases that are caused by poor air quality include: stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart disease, and acute respiratory infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated 7 million people that die from complications due to air pollution (WHO, 2022). With pulmonary disease being the number three leading cause of death globally, funding and creating a sustainable way to produce clean air is vital for future generations.
Similar to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution is merely a catalyst when it comes to fatality rates in people with underlying pulmonary diseases. There are several other variables that can account for pulmonary diseases, such as smoking tobacco products. However, a constant flow of poor quality air paired with other underlying factors can prove lethal in the long run. As shown in appendix B, figure 2, pulmonary disease has been on an upward climb for the past 80 years (Crapo, 2019). One of the primary forms of pulmonary disease, COPD, accounts for 20% of 7 million deaths (WHO, 2021).
Air pollution is emitted everywhere but in different densities. The highest densities of air pollution are produced mainly in southern and eastern parts of Asia; Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Iraq (Moya, 2022). Several of the countries listed are also categorized as some of the most impoverished nations. According to University of Washington researcher Anjum Hajat, Ph.D., and her research into the correlation between air pollution and poverty “showed that air pollution is higher in poorer communities” (Failey, 2016). From Hajat’s research, it makes sense that several of these countries that are categorized as impoverished make up a majority of the world’s air pollution.
There are several options both governments and the general population can do to help fight air pollution. The most pronounced government-funded agreement that aims to help alleviate and minimize climate change as a whole is the Paris Agreement. This agreement acts as a way to hold high polluting countries accountable and hold them to create commitments to cut climate pollution (Denchak, 2021). Unfortunately, like many issues in the world, effective change to aid the efforts of fighting climate change comes down to funding. Looking at the American budget, President Joe Biden has pledged $44.9 billion, less than 2% of the total budget, to help the climate crisis (Vahlsing, 2022). Although this may seem like a lot of money, in reality, this is only a penny in the ocean. According to Dr. David Archer, an estimate of “closer to $100,000 per ton of carbon” will be needed to effectively change climate change for good, roughly $185 trillion (Lerner, 2020). With the aid of the United Nations and other countries, this crisis could be solved if put at a higher priority.
As the fight against climate change is a group effort, the world’s population can not only rely on the government to fix it. The role of the people is just as important. Some fundamental changes to daily life that are recommended by the EPA are to always look for ways to conserve energy (EPA, 2022). This can be done by turning off electronics when not in use, carpooling when able, use of non-electric transportation (bicycles), and avoiding gas-powered tools. Making these easy changes in life can be very effective in mass practice.
Air pollution is not only a significant cause of climate change; it is also a cause of the deterioration of respiratory health in humans. The yearly decrease in air quality and increase in carbon dioxide emissions contributes to the millions of mortalities per year due to respiratory diseases and illness. As of now, the government-created acts to fight climate change are not enough as funding is one of the most significant issues. The global population as a whole needs to work together in order to battle this ongoing war against air pollution and climate change.
Crapo, J. D. (2019). Fifty Years of the division of lung diseases and the evolution of Pulmonary Research and Medicine. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases:Journal of the COPD Foundation. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://journal.copdfoundation.org/jcopdf/id/1249/Fifty-Years-of-the-Division-of-Lung-Diseases-and-the-Evolution-of-Pulmonary-Research-and-Medicine
Denchak, M. (2021, February 19). Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need To Know. NRDC. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know
Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.abe.iastate.edu/extension-and-outreach/carbon-monoxide-poisoning-vehicles-aen-208/
Environmental Protection Agency. (2014, February). Using web-based interactive tools for air quality analyses. Publications Page | AirNow.gov. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.airnow.gov/publications/2018-naq-conference/using-web-based-interactive-tools-air-quality-analyses/
Failey, T. (2016, April). Poor communities exposed to elevated air pollution levels. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/geh_newsletter/2016/4/spotlight/poor_communities_exposed_to_elevated_air_pollution_levels.cfm
Greiner, T. H. (2017, July 27). Carbon monoxide poisoning: Vehicles (AEN-208). Iowa State University. Retrieved April 30th, 2022 from https://www.abe.iastate.edu/extension-and-outreach/carbon-monoxide-poisoning-vehicles-aen-208/
Ian Tiseo. (2021, March 29). U.S Air Pollutant Emissions by Type 1970-2020. Statista. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1139418/air-pollutant-emissions-by-type-us/
Lerner, L. (2020, September 9). Climate change will ultimately cost humanity $100,000 per ton of carbon, scientists estimate. University of Chicago News. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://news.uchicago.edu/story/climate-change-will-ultimately-cost-humanity-100000-ton-carbon-scientists-estimate
Moya, M. J. (2022, March 22). These countries have the most polluted air in the world, new report says. Phys Org. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-03-countries-polluted-air-world.html
Ritchie, H. (2017, April 14). Air pollution: Does it get worse before it gets better? Our World in Data. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://ourworldindata.org/air-pollution-does-it-get-worse-before-it-gets-better
The Nature Conservancy (n.d.) What is your carbon footprint? Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/
Vahlsing, C. (2022, April 4). Quantifying risks to the federal budget from climate change. The White House. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/briefing-room/2022/04/04/quantifying-risks-to-the-federal-budget-from-climate-change/#:~:text=The%20President’s%20Budget%20for%20fiscal,60%20percent%20over%20FY%202021.
World Health Organization. (2022). Air Pollution. World Health Organization. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1
Fig. 1 Annual emissions of common pollutants dating from 1970 to 2020.
Fig. 2 Annual data collected of diagnosed pulmonary disease since 1940.