Environmental Risk Factors

Particulate Pollution

Particulate Matter, or PM, is a complex mixture that may contain soot, smoke, metals, nitrates, sulfates, dust, water and tire rubber. It can be directly emitted, as in smoke from a fire, or it can form in the atmosphere from reactions of gases such as nitrogen oxides. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles (known as PM2.5 or fine particulate matter) pose the greatest problems because they can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Scientific studies have linked long-term particle pollution, especially fine particles, with significant health problems including increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, development of chronic respiratory disease in children, development of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease, including death from lung cancer. Short-term symptoms can include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. The best way to protect yourself against particulate pollution is to avoid it as much as possible.

Ground Level Ozone

Ground-level Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) react with the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The primary sources of VOCs and NOx are mobile sources, which include cars, trucks, buses, construction equipment and agricultural equipment. Ground-level ozone reaches its highest level during the afternoon and early evening hours, and high levels occur most often during the summer months. This strong irritant can cause constriction of the airways, forcing the respiratory system to have to work harder in order to provide oxygen. It can also cause other health problems such as aggravated respiratory disease, including emphysema, bronchitis and asthma. It can also do damage to deep portions of the lungs, even after symptoms such as coughing or a sore throat disappear. Ozone can cause wheezing, chest pain, dry throat, headache, nausea and can reduce resistance to infection. Some people may also experience increased fatigue and weakened athletic performance. The best way to protect your health is to remain indoors when ozone levels are high. You can also help protect not only your health, but also the health of others by taking alternative transportation on days when ozone levels are high.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a dangerous pollutant that can have adverse health effects on the lungs, even if you are only exposed to it for a short amount of time. It is made up of more than 4,000 chemicals that are released from the end of a burning cigarette and exhaled by a smoker. It contains 40 known cancer-causing agents as well as many other harmful chemicals. People are at risk of breathing in secondhand smoke anywhere there are smokers and the smoke can travel about 20 feet in every directions and can stay around for hours. When the secondhand smoke is inhaled, the chemicals irritate the airways and have an immediate effect on the body, which can lead to a number of serious and deadly health problems. Exposure to secondhand smoke may cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breathe, asthma attacks, and even heart attacks. It can also hurt the eyes, nose and throat as well as cause headaches and dizziness. Prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke can cause chronic lung problems, lung cancer and heart disease in non-smoking adults as well as lung and ear infections, asthma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in children. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. The best way to protect yourself against secondhand smoke is to avoid it as much as possible.

Naturally Occuring Asbestos

Naturally occurring asbestos, also known as NOA, is fibrous minerals found in certain types of rock formations. There is no health threat if NOA remains undisturbed, but natural weathering or human disturbance can break it down into microscopic fibers, which are easily suspended in the air. When inhaled, the fibers can lodge deep in the lungs, and after a long latency period can cause various lung diseases including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Risk levels are proportional with the amount of exposures and the length of time since the first exposure. The best way to protect yourself against naturally occurring asbestos is to avoid it as much as possible.

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