Connections to Human Health

Air pollution can be “criteria air pollutants” and/or “toxic air contaminants”. Criteria air pollutants are those for which acceptable levels of exposure can be determined and regulated by standards set by federal and State governments (ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and inhalable particulates, sulfates, etc.). Toxic air contaminants are those that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. Some common examples include benzene, which is found in gasoline; perchlorethlyene, which is emitted from some dry cleaning facilities; and methylene chloride, which is used as a solvent and paint stripper by a number of industries.

Ozone and particulate matter are the two pollutants that are responsible for the bulk of the air quality problems in San Diego County. They cause discomfort, respiratory infections, disease, or death. Short-term exposure to air pollution can add stress and discomfort to the body. Chronic exposure can reduce lung capacity and other effects that can result in increased hospital admissions, premature deaths, or life-long cardiovascular system implications. Individual reactions to air pollutants will vary based on the type of pollutant, the degree and length of exposure, and individual’s health status.

The World Health Organization states that 2.4 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution, with 1.5 million of these deaths attributable to indoor air pollution. Air pollution can also damage other living organisms such as food crops or cause damage to natural and built environments.