What’s the Air Pollution Environmental Impact?

Rachel Lark - April 28, 2024

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Air pollution is a significant global concern. People can act to reduce their risk, such as tracking air quality levels and wearing masks when they’re high. However, as wildfires and other factors make the air more polluted, some individuals wonder about the possible impacts on themselves and the other animals inhabiting the planet. Fortunately, science has answered many questions about the air pollution environmental impact. 

Increased Risks of Adults Developing Multiple Health Conditions

When a 2022 study investigated the impact of traffic-related air pollution on more than 364,000 people in England, they found adults were more likely to have at least two health conditions when living in heavily polluted areas. This research was the largest of its kind to date, and it examined both mental and physical ailments occurring in the participants. 

The research team assessed whether people had 36 chronic physical conditions and five mental ones. Results indicated individuals had up to a 21% greater risk of developing at least two health problems, depending on the type and level of air pollutant exposure. Although the group cautioned more research was necessary to see how contaminants affected bodily systems, they believed air pollution reductions would help people enjoy healthier lives. 

Earlier research has shown fine particulate matter is a particularly dangerous air pollution type because it can travel deeper into the body. Even short-term exposure can bother some people by causing irritation and shortness of breath, among other unwanted effects. 

Raised Possibilities of Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity can worsen kids’ health, making them more likely to develop life-altering health problems while still young or once reaching adulthood. Researchers turned their attention to more than 46,000 kids and adolescents in Spain who moved to different areas during the study period. They found a connection between air pollution and a higher body mass index (BMI). The BMI increase was small, but researchers found this effect occurred regardless of a child’s socioeconomic status.

Although the team needs to do more research to determine the link between the two, they identified several possible causes of the higher BMI. Those included metabolism changes, reduced lung function and disrupted hormones, among others. Although this study was specific to the air pollution environmental impact on kids, the researchers believe they could replicate the method to study other matters. 

However, a different study had more positive results because it showed a relatively simple way to substantially reduce air pollution linked to cars. Researchers placed several plants near a playground to see how well they reduced the particulate matter. The results showed western red cedar, grown to head-height hedges, did the best job. It reduced the black carbon by 49% and cut two fine particulates by 46% and 26%, respectively.

This was only a small study involving four schools. But the outcomes were notable enough to warrant further investigation on a larger scale. After all, the ways to address dirty air around properties are relatively limited due to their fixed nature. If people can manage the air pollution environmental impact with a method that also beautifies the surroundings, that’s a win-win situation. 

Worsened Effects of Climate Change

Climate change is often in the news these days, and more people are starting to see it as an issue affecting their lives now rather than something that might impact them in the relatively distant future. A 2022 study that was the first of its kind examined global locations to pinpoint the effects of pollutants on climate and air quality. 

The researchers confirmed that although emissions from ​​CO2 and aerosols typically happen at the same time, the two behave differently once in the Earth’s atmosphere. One of the interesting findings about aerosols is that they usually become concentrated near the point of emission, causing varied climate effects based on their sources and intensities.

The team found that, depending on the emissions location, aerosols can cause up to a 66% increase in the economic costs greenhouse gases have on society. More specifically, the group examined eight world regions and factors such as crop productivity and gross domestic product. However, one complicated finding was that the emissions can be from two to 10 times more intense, depending on location. 

Additionally, sometimes the pollution affected neighboring regions more than the places that emitted it. The researchers concluded one way to think about it is that aerosol emissions are never good for the planet or the source locations. Their study found no local or global benefits associated with the aerosol emissions.

The Air Pollution Environmental Impact Is Bad News for Bees

Over the past many years, there has been a concentrated push for bee conservation, particularly as people recognize how vital these insects are for ecosystems. However, as people study the air pollution environmental impact, they sometimes find bees experiencing greater risks. 

Pollution Disrupting Bees’ Gut Microbiome

In one 2023 study, researchers focused on the gut microbiome of the bumblebee. They grew Snodgrassella alvi — a bacteria known as one of the first colonizers of the bee microbiome — in the lab and exposed it to black carbon to see the effects. The pollutant altered the structure and formation of the bacteria’s biofilm, potentially affecting the structure and function of the bees’ gut biome. 

They also studied live bumblebees exposed to black carbon. Those experiments indicated the pollutant caused significant changes in the abundance of two beneficial bacteria types in the gut microbiome. 

While the researchers said this study was not enough to connect air pollution to bee population declines, they highlighted the need for further research, especially since pollutants can cause changes not immediately evident. 

Ground-Level Ozone Reducing Bees’ Ability to Find Flowers

Research conducted elsewhere and published in 2023 suggested another worrisome air pollution environmental impact for bees. A group looked at how ground-level ozone affected bees’ ability to detect floral scents. It found the pollutant caused a 90% drop in bees’ ability to find flowers, even from just a few meters away. 

The team said their conclusions indicate a possible risk to food security, besides making it harder for pollinators to do their important work. Studies like this one emphasize how the air pollution environmental impact can be more far-reaching than people might initially anticipate. 

Air Pollution Needs Ongoing Study

These studies and many others like them show how pollution can affect the planet and its inhabitants in various ways. The more people learn about these connections, the better-equipped they’ll be to urge authorities to make meaningful changes. 

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.