6 Health Problems Linked to Air Pollution

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Air pollution in cities is a huge health hazard with far-reaching effects. Even levels that have been deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency are causing health problems. Here are some of the most common.

Childhood asthma

Air pollution near roadways is a contributing factor to childhood asthma, according to a recent study. Researchers looked at 300,000 cases of childhood asthma in Los Angeles and found that those living within 75 meters of a busy roadway were more likely to develop asthma.

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Heart attacks and strokes

Diesel exhaust particles in air pollution have been shown to combine with bad cholesterol to increase risk of heart disease and stroke, according to study published in the journal Genome Biology. Researchers found that the pollution and cholesterol worked in tandem to switch on genes that cause inflammation in the artery walls, which eventually harden.

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Lung cancer

Carcinogens are directly responsible for damaging DNA, which leads to cancer. Though most lung cancer is caused by carcinogens from smoking, inhaling exhaust fumes can also increase the risk of a person developing the disease. A 2011 study found that people who have never smoked, but live in high air pollution areas, are 20 percent more likely to die from lung cancer to those who live in neighborhoods with cleaner air.


Air pollution can exacerbate COPD and increases the risk of developoing severe COPD. Being exposed to higher levels of air pollution for a few days can bring on exacerbations of pre-existing COPD, but long-term exposure can actually cause the disease to progress, according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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Cognitive decline

Two studies found that even air pollution levels that are considered safe by the EPA can increase the risk of cognitive decline. Researchers found that long-term exposure to air pollution had a significant link to faster mental decline.

Type 2 diabetes

Women exposed to air pollution have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers say the pollution causes low-grade inflammation which may contribute. Nitrogen dioxide and soot in ambient fine particulate matter were found to be significantly associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes.