Air Pollution is a Silent Killer; More Risky than Cocaine

A recent study in Belgium found that individuals exposed to air pollution, typically in heavy traffic, were more susceptible to heart attacks than those using alcohol, coffee, cocaine, and physical exertion. Transportation systems in big cities around the world play a bigger role than just moving people and things, they impact human and ecological health, community, and culture. Since vehicular traffic is one of the major sources of city air pollution, the necessity and effectiveness of vehicles in cityscapes is a question of efficiency, ecological impact, and now health concerns. As modes of transit multiply, viewing systems as interrelated will be a key component in creating healthy sustainable development.

Overview of Study

First, preventative measures should be the focal point for those with high risks of heart attacks and/or heart disease. Refraining from smoking and actively engaging in physical exertion, a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight should be the first line of defense. But if heart disease and heart attacks run in the family or are a high risk, environmental hazards should be one of the first things to go according to this study. The study suggests air pollution as a higher risk for several reasons, yet the most striking is the rate of exposure. A greater number of people are exposed to air pollution than there are drug users and other rarer risks. It also suggests looking at geographic and population trends in place of single patient history to determine risk factors, increasing the risk for those in large cities with high levels of air pollution.

Pollution Health Risks

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution accounts for 2 million premature deaths annually across the globe. It is rated as a major environmental risk to health in the WHO system. As population increases in developing nations, as do industrialization and other forms of development that lead to air pollution, human health concerns skyrocket. This may raise concerns about human rights, wellbeing, and government responsibility related to creating high standards of living for healthy populations. The study found that although cocaine has the highest individual trigger rate, traffic has the greatest population trigger rate due to rates of exposure. Considering that drugs, alcohol use, and other major triggers are typically born out of human choice, air pollution and specifically traffic is an interesting addition to the mix. Although the intersection of environmental and human health is nothing new, this study elevates the necessity of population-specific risks and environmental hazards. By integrating these concerns into the health industry, environmental health may get a boost in the public agenda.

Government Responsibility

As cities and countries evolve, the type of growth has long-term implications on the health of the people, their environment, and their culture. Air pollution is nothing new to industrialization. Before the Beijing Olympics, regulation was installed to reduce the extensive air pollution. Mexico City has so much vehicular traffic it is now intensely regulated. With the issue being rooted in both environmental and social causes, a pronged approach is needed. On the social side, there are the issues of human health, transportation disrupting community development, and cultures being formed around vehicular traffic in place of people. The second layer is the obsolete use of automobiles in densely populated cities, where mass transit is more efficient and more financially profitable than roads. On the environmental side, air pollution threatens biodiversity among other environmental factors.

Governments are attacking the issues of transportation, pollution, and human health as separate factors with varying degrees of importance. What this study demonstrates is the interrelated nature of all three things, and the necessity for smart, sustainable growth to address these issues. As budget discussions pour over America and development strategies reign elsewhere, the question of prioritization and efficient investments is being overshadowed by the compartmentalization of issues. By viewing the system as interrelated, lawmakers and political leaders would be able to make more efficient and effective decisions, as would citizens and leading organizations.

Photo Credit: Impact Lab