Sykes explained that, in scientific research, a fine particle is 2.5 microns, a particle of flour is bigger and a grain of beach sand is blown up to 1,000 times of the size of the fine particle.
Yet, despite its small size, the fine particle is powerful and possibly devastating in its effect on human health and aging when it comes in the form of vehicular exhaust; chimney or factory soot; gases such as ozone or atmospheric smog and carbon monoxide; fumes from burning coal, oil or kerosene and from household cleaning products and paints; and smoke from tobacco, open -burning and wood-burning stoves, she said.
Fine particles from industry, traffic and household products enter homes and workplaces through open windows, doors or air conditioners. They add poison to the air, soil and water, she said. Without enough ventilation, radiation, tobacco smoke and fumes from cleaning products become concentrated indoors and degrade air quality. Research on indoor pollution and smoking can be found at the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/smokefree.
“It is so small and yet it gets into our bloodstream,” Sykes said of the fine particle.
Already, as the Collaborative research reports, environmental factors in early life can weigh in heavily on health in later life. Pregnant women’s exposure to air pollution is closely attributed to low birth weight and other problems. Pollution impairs lung development in children and heightens the risk of respiratory tract infections, asthma and cognitive behavioral problems.
Low birth weight, followed by rapid body growth, boosts the risk of teenage and adult obesity, Collaborative researchers report. It also leads to adult heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Once again, in turn, such diseases, especially diabetes and obesity, are connected to increased risk mental health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in later life.
Seniors and other individuals stricken with heart disease can experience variations or increases in their heart rates with air pollution, Collaborative researchers say. Pollution also worsens coronary atherosclerosis or chronic heart conditions, which results in heart attacks and death, especially among post-menopausal women.
For seniors with lung disease, their circumstances can be worsened by air pollution as the particles enter the respiratory tract and cause health problems such as inflammation of the lungs, difficulty breathing and aggravation of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Research on lung disease can be found at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/lung/index.htm and the American Lung Association’s website at http://www.lungusa.org.
For seniors with diabetes, air pollution can boost the risk of heart disease, stroke and other heart problems, Collaborative research finds.
Seniors exposed to lead when they were children still have the substance stored in their bodies where it may not have any negative effects until later in life. Higher blood lead levels bring about an increased risk for hypertension, atherosclerosis and reduced kidney function. Additionally, poisoning leads to decreased cognitive functioning with symptoms mimicking dementia.
According to literature from the Collaborative, American businesses and agencies make and import 42 billion pounds of industrial and farm chemicals. These chemicals end up in consumer products, the environment and human bodies, including the bloodstream and vital organs of newborn infants.
Information can be found at the Collaborative’s website at http://www.healthandenvironment.org. The Collaborative, once again also known as CHE, has working groups on asthma, autism, breast cancer, cancer, children’s environmental health, electromagnetic fields, fertility, reproductive health, healthy aging, integrative health, learning and developmental disabilities, mental health, diabetes, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases and science in general to tackle these issues scientifically.
Sykes explained that the National Vital Statistics Report of 2001 found that, in the United States, environmental pollution is responsible for 50,000 to 60,000 extra deaths from 11 major causes of human demise: cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, accidents, diabetes, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, septicemia, liver disease and homicides.
This means that environmental pollution accounts for at least 50,000 to 60,000 more deaths from these 11 causes than if each of these causes occurred in isolation. Thus, 50,000 to 60,000 such deaths could be prevented with more environmental protection awareness, advocacy and action, she said.
As a result, nationwide, air pollution contributes a certain percentage of 908,061 heart disease deaths, of 549,787 cancer deaths, of 178,539 respiratory disease deaths, of 97,298 accidental deaths, of 68,379 diabetic deaths, of 62,498 kidney disease deaths, of 44,507 Alzheimer’s disease deaths, of 30,670 septicemic deaths, of 29,041 suicides, of 26,225 liver disease deaths and of 16,831 murders — with all national totals of each category of death calculated annually.
“[Environmental pollution takes a] percentage of [these] deaths,” Sykes said. “[Heart disease] is ahead of cancer and responsible for 40 percent of all deaths.”
This article was originally published Feb. 18, 2014 on the website of PharmPsych.com, one of seven websites that comprise The Pharm Psych Network, a medical communications and education company.