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Air Pollution – An Alarming Health Hazard, Part 1 of 2

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Air pollution was among the top five leading risk factors for early death worldwide in 2019 and causes about seven million deaths every year. Today, 90% of people breathe unclean air that contains significant amounts of pollutants.

Even though air quality in Europe has improved in the past decade, a special report called “State of Global Air 2020” revealed that the highest annual exposure to PM2.5 continues to be seen in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. PM2.5 refers to Particulate Matter, one of the most concerning substances in air pollution. As the size of the particulate matter is greatly associated with its detrimental effects, fine particles can pose a serious threat to our health. They can be inhaled deeply into the respiratory tract or even enter into the bloodstream due to its fine size.

Pregnant women exposed to air pollution may have a higher chance of elevated blood pressure, which is a common cause of pre-term birth. In addition, particulate matter increases the risk of low birth weight and having a child with autism. Inhaling PM2.5 might also change the size of a child’s developing brain, and this can eventually make them become more vulnerable to emotional problems when they enter adolescence. Research has shown that the elderly in the United States who are exposed to the annual mean amount of PM2.5 nationally, have a greater chance of developing neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementias.

Besides particulate matter, ozone is another major part of the air pollution. Low amounts of ozone can lead to chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat discomfort. Not only does ozone exposure worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, but also it weakens the body’s response to fight off respiratory infections.

Next, let’s take a look at how air pollution impacts COVID-19. According to a study from Harvard University in the United States, an increase of one microgram per cubic meter in PM2.5 increases the COVID-19 death rate by 8%. Meanwhile, Dr. Mary Prunicki from Stanford University in the United States found that air pollution can also exacerbate the COVID-19 situation in a surprising way - that particulates and nitrogen dioxide in air pollutants can act as vectors for the coronavirus to spread.
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