Now that the majority of the world population lives in urban areas, it’s time to admit: people trade their health for the opportunities big cities offer. Air, noise and water pollution affect our health and lead to thousands of cases of serious diseases every year. Now we are going to discuss what dangers lurk in the concrete jungle.
Image Credit: wiadomosci.onet.pl
Pollution levels can take your breath away
Air pollution is one of the major concerns for those living in big cities, as it can cause a variety of diseases.
We are used to hearing how polluted our cities are and how dangerous it is, but most of us do not realize the threat is real. There are many pollutants, but some of them are found in abundance, and their high concentration causes more problems than that of others. One of such pollutants is sulphur dioxide, which appears in the air when fossil fuels are burned. In most cases, it is emitted by power stations which use coal and other fuels of this kind to produce electricity.
Another common pollutant is nitrogen dioxide. High levels of this substance are usually detected in places close to roads and in rooms in which gas cookers are used.
When pollutants are exposed to sunlight, chemical reactions occur, which causes high concentrations of ozone to appear near ground level. Besides the above mentioned substances, there is the so-called particulate matter which comes from road traffic. This matter consists of particles and droplets of dust and dirt of different sizes. These particles can get into lungs and trigger inflammation.
Many developed countries have already tackled the issue of metals in emissions, but for several countries it remains a serious problem. Depending on the sector, there can be lead emissions (steel and iron industries), arsenic emissions (from burning treated wood), mercury emissions, etc.
What does polluted air mean for lungs?
The substances and particles in the air are thought to cause inflammation which contributes to development of a wide range of diseases. The mechanisms involved in the process of polluted air affecting lungs is complex, but it is associated with increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, asthma, cancer and other diseases; it can also accelerate lung ageing and lung function decline. As to other organs, air pollution takes its toll on pancreas (linked to type 2 diabetes), heart (atherosclerosis, heart disease, etc.), and the brain. The latter is also affected in babies who are still in their mother’s womb, as pollutants in the air can affect fetal brain growth, but it also has a detrimental effect on adults and teens.
The surprising danger of salt
No, we are not going to discuss sodium and how you should limit consumption of it when following a healthy diet. The salt we mean here is road salt, the salt used to make roads and streets navigable in winter. A recent research suggests that this pollutant, which gets into lakes and rivers when the snow melts, can disrupt circadian rhythms and trigger changes in the body leading to diseases. It was revealed that Daphnia pulex, a species of zooplankton, adapts to increased salinity resulting from use of road salt, and that its circadian clock starts working in a weird way. The genetic mechanisms behind it can be similar to those of humans, the researchers say, so they assume the same can happen in people.
Are there any other dangers?
Yes, plenty. Noise pollution, stress, contaminated soil, physical inactivity, spending too much time indoors, not enough trees, noncommunicable diseases, unhealthy diets, violence, and risks of disease outbreaks – urbanization can affect our health and mind in a number of ways.
It is time we start thinking about what we are doing with the planet we were given. The message here is not to abandon cities (though living in the country is a good option), but to do our best to reduce emissions, recycle more, and use eco-friendly vehicles. Still have no time for regular workouts? Try cycling and getting to work in a way that does not harm nature.
Urbanization and health – Who.int
Warning: living in a city could seriously damage your health – TheGuardian.com
Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution – Rcplondon.ac.uk
Rapid evolution of tolerance to road salt in zooplankton – ScienceDirect.com