May 11, 2018

Air Pollution: Fine Particulates Are Worse Than We Thought

As knowledge and awareness of the health risks posed by fine particulate air pollution continues to grow so does the problem. Pollution from power plant smoke, dust and other kinds of fine particles is now recognized as a leading contributor to deaths worldwide. The journal Science reports in the April 27, 2018 issue that 95% of the world’s population now live in areas where airborne particulates exceed levels recommended by the World Health Organization. Between 2010 and 2016 average concentrations of fine particulate grew globally by an estimated 18%. Fine particulate air pollution is now listed as sixth on the list of the top 10 contributors to death worldwide, between high cholesterol (fifth) and alcohol use (seventh).

Natural Medicine Journal has been doing our best to report on new research on fine particulates as it is published. In April 2018 we reviewed the study on air pollution in London and how it affects birth weight of infants. The authors estimated that 3% of the low birth weights in London could be blamed on air pollution.1

Our first mention of this problem was in a 2015 review article on air pollution, disease and mortality written by Walter Crinnion, ND, past professor of Environmental Medicine at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona. This article appeared in one of Natural Medicine Journal’s special issues. Crinnion’s article stands out in hindsight because he summed up his thoughts by writing: “It is quite possible that one of the most effective preventive medicine modalities would be the installation of a high-quality air purifier in the home.”2

A 2016 piece by Crinnion suggested an association between air pollution levels and all cause mortality. The worse the pollution, the higher the risk of dying.3 Julianne Forbes, ND has reviewed several papers on air pollution and has become something of our expert on the matter. In 2016 she wrote about the link between fine particulate levels and risk of suicide.4 She also reviewed the data linking fine particulate levels to worsening diabetes.

The February 2018 issue looked at a second paper suggesting fine particulate exposure increased all-cause mortality in older people.5 Even common complaints like anxiety have been linked to fine particulate exposures.

At this point in time we know air pollution, in particular fine particulate exposures, is detrimental to health. While government regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency may not be exhibiting enthusiasm to lower exposure, we can certainly limit exposure in our homes and workplaces simply by using air filtration systems. In the last few years we have purchased air filters for both our office and home. Granted it would make better long-term sense to reduce particulate levels outside our doors through tougher emission standards, but that seems unlikely to happen in the near future. So filters are better than nothing.

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