(Last Updated On: May 6, 2023)

6 Shocking Facts About Air Pollution

becky dotson

By Becky Dotson

5 min read

While we may think we know a lot about air pollution, there are many factors and impacts you may not realize.  Here are 6 facts you may not know about air pollution.

Often when we think about air pollution, we think about giant cities with smog hanging over them. But air pollution is a problem no matter where you live. It’s caused when solid and liquid particles and certain gasses get suspended in the air. The particles can be created by a multitude of factors – vehicle exhausts, factory emissions, power plants, oil refineries, fires, dust, pollen, wood-burning fireplaces and so many other things that send particles into the air.

6 facts about air pollution

Over the past several decades we have become more aware about how unhealthy air pollution is for us. And the U.S. government and large corporations have made strides in how to lower pollution levels. But there’s still much work to do.

Fact 1 – 4 Out of 10 Americans Breathe Unhealthy Air Daily

According to the “State of the Air” 2021 report from the American Lung Association, four out of ten Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution. That’s roughly 135 million people living in areas that have extremely high levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Nearly 20 million of Americans live in counties that have high levels of both.

When you breathe in ozone it irritates and inflames your lungs. It’s comparable to having a bad sunburn in your lungs. Breathing in particle pollution can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.

Fact 2- Children are More at Risk

Several studies have shown children are at a greater risk from air pollution than adults. Their lungs are still growing. In fact, 80 percent of their tiny air sacs develop after they are born. Those sacs are where oxygen is transferred into the blood.

Since their lungs and immune system are still developing, they are often at a greater risk for respiratory infections. Air pollution is known to be a significant cause of asthma attacks and respiratory illnesses. And unfortunately, because children play outside and are more active than adults, they end up inhaling more polluted air. If a child lives and grows up in a more polluted area – it can also restrict their lung growth.

Fact 3 – Fossil Fuel Air Pollution Kills

Fossil fuels, like coal, crude oil and natural gas, are formed from the fossilized and buried remains of plants and animals that lived many years ago. They are used to generate most of the energy required for our cars to run and the lights and power needed to run businesses and keep the electricity on at our homes.

Fossil fuels have contributed greatly to air pollution. And recent research has found the pollution from these types of fuels is responsible for nearly one in every five deaths worldwide. Fossil fuel pollution is actually responsible for more deaths each year than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined!

Fact 4 – Living Near Major Roads is Bad for Your Health

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says 45 million Americans live, work or go to school within 300 feet of a major road. While that does offer a great convenience, it can impact your health in a profoundly negative way.

Your regular proximity to a major roadway can lead to an increase in health problems associated with air pollution. That’s because there are higher concentrations of things that pollute the air coming from vehicles. Being close to a heavily traveled road can lead to higher rates of asthma attacks, cardiovascular disease, childhood leukemia, and impaired lung development in kids.

Fact 5- Air Pollution Causes Many Diseases

We think being outside in the ‘fresh’ air is good for us, but over time exposure to polluted air can lead to the development of several diseases. Respiratory infections, asthma, COPD, cataracts, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, and lung cancer can all be triggered by continual exposure to air pollution.

Fact 6 – Indoor Air is More Polluted Than Outdoor Air

It may seem hard to believe, but the air inside our homes, schools and businesses can actually be worse than the air outside. The EPA says it can be up to five times worse – and the governmental agency ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental risk factors to our health.

Inside our home, dust, pet dander, mold spores, how we heat our homes, how we cook, cleaning products and even the materials our homes are built with can all contribute to the pollution. We spend a lot of time inside, too – up to 90 percent. The bad air inside can have an immediate impact – causing you to sneeze or cough. Long-term it can cause respiratory issues and other chronic health problems.

What Can We Do?

Outdoor air pollution is something we have to tackle as a community and a country. Finding cleaner forms of energy and figuring out how to implement them is a great start. Inside your home, investing in an air purifier will help. Air purifiers are designed to pull contaminants out of the air, forcing clean air back out. Buying an air purifier and putting it in a common area of your home will go along way toward protecting your family’s health from air pollution.