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What's in the air we breathe, and how does it affect our health?

The air we breathe has a direct correlation with our health. Among the population that is most negatively affected by poor air quality are children, elderly, and individuals with respiratory or cardiovascular health issues.  There are several pollutants that are released into the air, and depending on the severity and chronic exposure, they could have lasting health impacts.

The following list below are major pollutants that affect our health in different ways, and are caused by many factors. Explore the list to see where these pollutants comes from, and how we can help reduce their negative impact on our health:

Ozone (O3):

Source: When gases or vapors created by cars, solvents, factories, and pesticides mix and react in the presence of sunlight.

Health Effects: Difficulty breathing, chest pains, aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Shortness of breath, coughing, and lung damage with prolonged and chronic exposure.

Ways to Prevent: Avoid spending too much time outdoors on high-level ozone days, check local ozone quality for each day, conserve energy, limit driving or use alternative fuel vehicles.

Carbon Monoxide (CO):

Source: Furnaces, clothes dryers, ovens, fireplaces, portable generators, charcoal grills, vehicles running in garages.

Health Effects: Headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and nausea. If CO levels are high enough, you may become unconscious or die.

Ways to Prevent: Properly ventilate vehicles and appliances that run and emit CO, limit use of CO polluting, limit several appliances running simultaneously that can cause CO build up.

Particulate Matter (PM10) and Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5):

Source: Power plants, dust, construction projects, wildfires, cars, manufacturing facilities.

Health Effects: Coughs, asthma, cancer, lung damage, heart attacks, and premature death.

Ways to Help: Control dust sources, industrial emissions, and residential burning. Limit outdoor activity when PM levels are high.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2):

Source: Furnaces, clothes dryers, ovens, fireplaces, portable generators, charcoal grills, vehicles running in garages.

Health Effects: Lung damage and irritation.

Ways to Help: Conserve energy, use clean renewable energy sources, limit motor vehicle and equipment use.

Lead (Pb):

Source: Lead smelters, ore and metals processing, engine aircraft operating on leaded aviation fuel, waste incinerators, utilities, and lead-acid battery manufacturing facilities.

Health Effects: Damage to nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems, and cardiovascular systems.

Ways to Help: Control emissions from lead smelters. Use unleaded gasoline. Replace leaded paint with non-lead substitute.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2):

Source: Coal or oil burning power plants and industries, refineries, and diesel engines.

Health Effects: Irritates the nose, throat, and airways. Coughing, shortness of breath, tightness of chest. Individuals with asthma at high risk for developing issues.

Ways to Help: Reduce use of high sulfur fuels, transition to clean renewable energy generation, and conserve energy.

Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S):

Source: Geothermal power plants, petroleum production, sewer gas.

Health Effects: Rotten egg smell, headache, skin complications, respiratory damage.

Ways to Help: Control emissions from geothermal power plants, petroleum production, sewers, and sewage treatment plants.