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Medicine LibreTexts

13.3: Air Pollution

  • Page ID
    11778
  • Air pollution occurs when harmful substances including particulates and biological molecules are introduced into Earth's atmosphere. It may cause diseases, allergies or death of humans; it may also cause harm to other living organisms such as animals and food crops, and may damage the natural or built environment. Human activity and natural processes can both generate air pollution.

    Indoor air pollution and poor urban air quality are listed as two of the world's worst toxic pollution problems in the 2008 Blacksmith Institute World's Worst Polluted Places report. According to the 2014 World Health Organization report, air pollution in 2012 caused the deaths of around 7 million people worldwide, an estimate roughly matched by the International Energy Agency.

    An air quality index (AQI) is a number used by government agencies to communicate to the public how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecast to become. As the AQI increases, an increasingly large percentage of the population is likely to experience increasingly severe adverse health effects. Different countries have their own air quality indices, corresponding to different national air quality standards. Some of these are the Air Quality Health Index (Canada), the Air Pollution Index (Malaysia), and the Pollutant Standards Index (Singapore).

    Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a term that refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. IAQ can be affected by gases (including carbon monoxide, radon, volatile organic compounds), particulates, microbial contaminants (mold, bacteria), or any mass or energy stressor that can induce adverse health conditions. Source control, filtration and the use of ventilation to dilute contaminants are the primary methods for improving indoor air quality in most buildings. Residential units can further improve indoor air quality by routine cleaning of carpets and area rugs.

    Determination of IAQ involves the collection of air samples, monitoring human exposure to pollutants, collection of samples on building surfaces, and computer modelling of air flow inside buildings.

    IAQ is part of indoor environmental quality (IEQ), which includes IAQ as well as other physical and psychological aspects of life indoors (e.g., lighting, visual quality, acoustics, and thermal comfort). Indoor air pollution in developing nations is a major health hazard. A major source of indoor air pollution in developing countries is the burning of biomass (e.g. wood, charcoal, dung, or crop residue) for heating and cooking. The resulting exposure to high levels of particulate matter resulted in between 1.5 million and 2 million deaths in 2000.