Thanks to factors such as public education campaigns, research advancements, medical innovations, and of course, the web and its ever-growing myriad of sources, channels, and portals, people these days are more aware and empowered than ever before to safeguard their heath and enhance their overall wellbeing.

Indeed, whether they’re ensuring that they’re regulating their nutritional intake, hopping on the treadmill or exercise bike, or taking a few minutes a day to give their body and mind a rest from distractions and anxieties, most people are healthier today than at any time in human history. That is, until they crack open a window or venture outside.

Kent Bonacki, a grant researcher and professional writer out of Park City, Utah, says that poor air quality results in poor health among those who breathe it in. He explains how poor air quality adversely affects health.

A Global Dilemma

The quality of air in many communities and cities isn’t just worrisome or disconcerting: it’s alarming, and in some areas of the planet it’s catastrophic. In fact, air pollution is responsible for 6.4 million deaths each year, of which more than 600,000 are children. To put this number in shocking context, this is a higher death count than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS combined.

Still, there are many people who believe that toxic air laden with dangerous levels of particulate matter, black carbon, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, lead, and ozone is a problem that exclusively targets the developing world. Simply put: this perception is wrong — and in extreme cases pertaining to children, the elderly, and those with compromised or weakened immune systems, it could be even fatal.

Poor air quality is a global dilemma, and no area or country is spared the risks or the wrath — including the U.S., says Kent Bonacki. For example, a report published in the Annals of American Thoracic Society found that Salt Lake City ranks 23rd among U.S. cities for the highest volume of adverse excess health impacts caused by outdoor air pollution.

Researchers found that if Salt Lake City reduced the threshold for two major sources of air pollution — PM 2.5 particulates and ozone — to the levels recommended by the American Thoracic Society, each year 118 fewer people would develop serious illnesses and 72 fewer people would die. And this is just for Salt Lake City. Across the country, the number of preventable illnesses and deaths would be avoided.

How Poor Air Quality Affects Health

The adverse — and in some cases dire — impact of poor air quality of human health depends on several variables. These include the source of the pollutant (for example, ozone is both quite common and especially dangerous), the size of the particles (PM 2.5 particles and PM 10 particles are small enough to bypass the body’s defenses and lodge into the lungs, bloodstream, and brain), and the duration of exposure (short-term versus long-term).

Just some of the diseases and conditions caused by exposure to air suspended toxicants include neuropsychiatric complications, cardiovascular disease, asthma, psychological complications, lung cancer, ventricular hypertrophy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, retinopathy, fetal growth, and low birth weight.

And still, the story gets worse: air pollution is not limited to targeting and harming human beings. It causes tremendous ecological damage by seeping into the soil and groundwater sources and also harms the functional reproductive capacity of animals.

Studies have shown that excessive and sustained air pollution is linked to acid rain, temperature inversion, and climate change — all of which post a significant threat to a healthy diversity of life on our planet, warns Kent Bonacki. It goes without saying that dialing back air pollution levels at the source and restoring ecological equilibrium will be extremely difficult and complex.

Final Thoughts from Kent Bonacki

Ignoring the problem or pretending that it is only a local or regional issue are not acceptable. Dangerous levels of air pollution will not diminish on their own. On the contrary, they will worsen as preventable illnesses and fatalities rise. That is not policy or progress. It is reckless and ruinous. The time to act is now, says Kent Bonacki.

Luckily, there are steps that we can take as individuals to reduce air pollution and improve air quality. These may include simple steps like conserving energy by turning off lights and electronics when not in use, using energy efficient lights and appliances, or carpooling or taking public transportation.