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Air Pollutants: What Can Really Happen

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Autor:   •  June 24, 2011  •  2,184 Words (9 Pages)  •  646 Views

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Air Pollutants: What Can Really Happen

In today’s world, air pollutants are a serious environmental issue. We, as an industrial society, have become far too familiar with terms like smog, radon, lead, asbestos, ozone, and carbon monoxide. We have also seen on the news, read in the newspaper, or experienced in our own lives some of the harmful consequences that result from these pollutants -- such as allergies or congestion from exposure to smog or more dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning. There have been some regulations established in an attempt to minimize these harmful air pollutants. For example, we have vehicle emissions testing and standards for pollutant emitting facilities.

Federal involvement began in 1970 with the introduction of the Clean Air Act. In the nearly 30 years it has been in effect, it has undergone some changes, but the purpose has remained the same: "to establish and enforce air quality standards that protect public health with an adequate margin of safety" (Huebner and Chilton). The standards outlined in the Clean Air Act state that the "Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must promulgate secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) necessary to protect the public welfare. "Public Welfare" includes effects on soils, water, crops, animals, weather, visibility, economic values, personal comfort and well-being (Env Law). Being protected from harmful pollutants under a federal statute should bring comfort -- but are we really protected?

Yes, it is comforting that there are outlined standards regulating the pollutants that are being emitted into our environment. The air that we breathe should be our life subsistence, not the cause of harm or illness. These standards were established to protect public health, but there is a large fault within them. The Clean Air Act only applies to outside or ambient air. There is no federal statute regarding air pollution occurring indoors.

Should this be of serious concern to you? Can you get sick breathing indoor air? Can you die? What can you do to protect yourself? Can you get retribution in a court of law? Would you even have any legal standing?

The federal Clean Air Act is so committed to its incomplete purpose that it does not consider cost in the efforts to approve our air quality. "In pursuing this standard of perfection, The Environmental Protection Agency (with the support of courts) has determined that costs or other economic factors may not be considered in standard setting" (Huebner and Chilton). The idea that we will all be protected from the dangers of air pollution sounds wonderful. We can stand up and salute our government for taking such drastic action where our health is concerned. "But because ozone can cause some effects in individuals even at naturally occurring levels, this goal is impossible, at least with respect to this pollutant" (Huebner and Chilton). The failure to include indoor air in the federal effort to control air pollution makes this goal even less obtainable. Lack of attention and understanding of indoor air quality (IAQ) can lead to serious and even fatal health problems.

Health problems resulting from poor indoor air quality occur very frequently. “The term "sick building syndrome" (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified." "In contrast, the term "building related illness" (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants" (Indoor). The number of buildings that fit the "sick building syndrome" and "building related illness" description is alarmingly high. "According to the World Health Organization, approximately 30% of all commercial buildings have significant indoor air quality (IAQ) problems" (Byrd).

The causes of sick building syndrome include: inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor sources, chemical contaminants from outdoor sources, and biological contaminants. In the case of sick building syndrome, symptoms usually cease upon leaving the building. In cases of building related illness, biological contaminants are usually the culprit. "Physical symptoms related to biological contamination include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches, and allergic responses such as mucous membrane irritation and upper respiratory congestion" (Indoor). These physical symptoms can be more than allergic responses and may even be showcasing a harbored disease. "One indoor bacterium, Legionella, has caused both Legionnaire's Disease and Pontiac Fever" (Indoor).

Legionnaire's disease is a form of pneumonia. If you do not have pneumonia, then you are not suffering from Legionnaire's. This disease is spread through Legionella bacteria present in airborne water particles that are inhaled by susceptible individuals. The disease was first discovered in 1976 and is now very common. "There are an estimated 25,000 deaths per year in the U.S. from it. Most cases are never diagnosed as being Legionnaire's disease, but are simply recognized as a case of pneumonia. It is believed that most cases of Legionnaire's disease are caught in hospitals" (Byrd).

Pontiac Fever is caused by the same Legionella bacteria. Its victims experience flu-like symptoms, so it does not pose as serious a health risk as does Legionnaire's disease. Pontiac Fever is "self-limiting (people get well on their own in a few days) and no one knows why some infections manifest as the one disease and some as the other" (Byrd).

Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a serious building related illness. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is the result of an incomplete combustion of carbon burning in the air. "The most well known symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches and nausea, but long term moderate exposure can cause other symptoms, including flu-like symptoms" (Byrd). "Carbon monoxide inhaled combines in the blood stream with hemoglobin - the oxygen carrying chemical in red blood calls" (Byrd). Symptoms and even death can occur when a large enough amount of carbon monoxide is inhaled resulting in the prevention of hemoglobin to carry oxygen throughout the body. "Very high levels of carbon monoxide can kill in a few minutes" (Byrd). It is extremely important to act quickly when suspicious of carbon monoxide poisoning. The area or building should be vacated immediately.



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