Risk Factors #
The degree of risk depends on the pollutant, its concentration, and the length of exposure. Exposure to air pollution can have serious health effects, even for healthy people. For example, carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly to anyone in a matter of minutes. For less severe symptoms, individuals in high-risk groups may experience worse effects than others.
High Risk Groups #
High risk groups include:
- People with lung diseases (e.g asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- People with heart and artery diseases (i.e. cardiovascular disease)
- People who lack access to health care
- People who smoke tobacco or are exposed to second-hand smoke
- People working with materials that contribute to poor indoor air quality
- People who spend a lot of time near busy highways
- People living with high external stressors (e.g. racism)
- People with disabilities who “have poor access to safe and healthy homes”
High risk communities include:
- Black and African-American people and Indigenous people
- Infants and Young Children
- Adults over 65
- People living on low incomes
Impacts to Black and African-American people and Indigenous people #
Black and African-American people and Indigenous people, regardless of income, have been found to suffer greater consequences as a result of poor indoor air quality. Scientists suspect that the additional stressor of racism and anti-indigenity cause underlying health problems that make them more susceptible.
Impacts to Infants and Young Children #
Lead from chipped paint is also especially bad for children. Smoking and burning solid materials (e.g. wood) releases large amounts of toxic air pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter. These particles can exceed World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations by up to 100 times. Research has shown that exposure to cigarette smoke increases the risk of lower respiratory tract illnesses and wheezing in children. Exposure to these pollutants can cause developmental delays, behavioural problems, and lower IQ in children.
Thirdhand smoke are the pollutant particles that linger in the air or that stick to clothes, hair, and skin. Children are especially vulnerable to thirdhand smoke because they put everything in their mouths. The toxins in the smoke can stunt their growth and weaken their immune systems. Infants are also more likely to touch contaminated surfaces, especially when they’re teething, which is common when they’re young.
Children are also more sensitive to odors. When a bad odor is present, it can disrupt sleep and cause other physical and mental health problems.
Impacts to People Living on Low Incomes #
Cigarette smoke and household air pollution have been linked to respiratory diseases. The health risks are higher in low-income households, because low-income households have been targeted by tobacco companies and smoke more than people living on higher incomes.
People living on low incomes also struggle to access adequate health care in general. Therefore, they may be struggling with health issues that are further impacted by poor indoor air quality and vice versa.