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Exposure to Air Pollution Linked to Genetic Abnormalities

Polluted air is all around us. It's outside, it's inside, and unless you live in an isolated and pristine locale, it's pretty much unavoidable. Fortunately, for the inside your home, where studies have shown the air is most polluted -- an average of 2-5 times more polluted than outside! -- you will learn how you can dramatically reduce the amount of toxins to much safer levels.

As for city versus country, though, neither is "safe." If you live in a city, the air you breathe is subjected to toxins from industry, construction and exhaust from cars, buses and planes. In the country, the air gets polluted from dust, car, truck and tractor exhaust, pesticide dusters, rock quarries and smoke from wood and crop fires.


Those of us living in the most polluted cities may have a year or two shaved off our lives!

And all this pollution is affecting our health. One study published in the February 2005 issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention found that pregnant women in New York exposed to high levels of air pollution are more likely to have babies with genetic abnormalities linked to cancer than pregnant women exposed to lower levels.

In fact, children born to women who were exposed to the highest level of air pollutants (the air pollutants measured in the study were combustion-related pollutants, which typically come from car exhaust) had about 50 percent more genetic abnormalities than children whose mothers were exposed to lower levels.

Said the senior author of the study, Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, these pollutants "are very pervasive in the urban environment, so we have no reason to think the results are not relevant to other populations in urban areas."

Air Pollution's Effect on You

About 4 percent of deaths in the United States can be attributed to air pollution, according to the Environmental Science Engineering Program at the Harvard School of Public Health. And, alarmingly, in the most polluted cities it has been estimated that lives are shortened by an average of one to two years, according to research by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University.

Generally speaking, air pollution affects everyone a little bit differently. Certain groups, like children, the elderly and people with heart disease or lung disease (air pollution primarily affect the body's respiratory and circulatory systems), are particularly at risk.

Possible Health Impacts from Exposure to Polluted Air

  • Eye, throat and lung irritation

  • Burning eyes

  • Cough

  • Chest tightness

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Asthma attacks

  • Increased upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia

  • Chronic respiratory disease

  • Lung cancer

  • Heart disease

  • Respiratory problems

  • Exacerbated allergies

  • Adverse neurological, reproductive and developmental effects

  • Genetic abnormalities in newborns

What Can be Done?

Unfortunately, you cannot choose what outside air you breathe, short of relocating to an area that's untouched by industry and other pollutants. However, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), "Perhaps the most significant action an individual can take is to limit the use of fireplaces and wood burning stoves ... Carpooling, recycling, maintaining automobiles, and insulating homes can [also] make a big difference."

Indoor Air is Even MORE Polluted

Even if you can't control the air you breathe outside your home, you can control the air inside. You may be surprised to learn that the Environmental Protection Agency says indoor air can be anywhere from two to five times as polluted as outdoor air -- and sometimes more than 100 times more polluted!

Child Sleeping

Indoor air can be two to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air, so it is wise to make keeping your home's air clean a top priority.

Toxins in indoor air can stem from a number of sources, including:

Says Rob Watson, senior scientist and green building expert at the NRDC, "Enemy number one of indoor air quality is moisture," which can spur mold growth that's tough on the respiratory system. He recommends leaving windows open when showering or cooking, but added that "a more effective tactic for controlling moisture is using bathroom and laundry room fans, which can be set to timers to run intermittently throughout the day." The fans must be vented to the outdoors, however, and should not simply re-circulate the air.

People spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, so having clean air inside should be a top priority. That's why, according to leading health organizations like the American Lung Association, with the rapidly growing volume of air pollution in the home, having a high-quality air purifier is as crucial as having clean drinking water.

What to Look for in an Air Purifier

The challenge with most air filters or purifiers is that air must be drawn to the unit, either through natural air flow, or through the use of a fan. This method results in uneven treatment and can leave pockets of polluted air, plus fans are noisy, subject to failure, and require higher levels of electricity.

Recommended Reading

Self-Assessment to Determine if You May Have Biological Pollutants in Your Home


Medical News Today


Natural Resources Defense Council

Indoor Air Quality News

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