An insidious killer exists all around you. Its effects can be subtle, such as a nagging cough or throat irritation. It can move invisibly or in the open. However it operates, one thing is certain. It can kill you, whether through a heart attack or from lung disease. It is air pollution.
The High Price of Air Pollution
The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes over one million deaths each year. It is a problem both in developing and developed countries. In addition to its cost in human lives, it carries an economic price. A study by California State University estimated that air pollution costs the California economy $28 billion each year alone.
Unless you have a pre-existing respiratory condition, the health effects of air pollution may not be evident. One of the risk factors associated with exposure is high blood pressure, itself a silent killer. However, recent history shows just how deadly air pollution can be and is a lesson worth remembering.
In October 1948, the town of Donora, Pennsylvania experienced the effects firsthand. A lethal combination of fog and smoke trapped at the surface by an air inversion, created deadly conditions that sickened 6,000 individuals and took 20 lives. The inversion trapped dangerous gases, traced to the local industries. The ensuing pandemonium created almost an Orwellian-like panic. It was not an isolated case.
The ravages of air pollution and an inversion created a more catastrophic event in London in December 1952. A dense fog fueled by coal emissions from homes and factories created a smog that blanketed the city and reduced visibility. The fog persisted for four days. Over 4,000 died, with another 8,000 perishing in the following weeks.
Air Pollution Control
Pollution control measures since implemented have reduced the probability of such an event re-occurring. The threat, however, still remains. If the effects are not immediate, they can appear later in life. A study by the European Commission found that exposure to air pollution can reduce life expectancy by nine months.
Add to that any other health risk factors, it becomes evident that air pollution is a major concern. What is even more disturbing is that you have little control over exposure. This means that stronger regulation to protect human lives is imperative. Failure to do so sets the stage for another deadly fog.