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Chemical Pollutants

Health Impacts of Exposure to Chemical Pollutants

CO enters the bloodstream through the lungs and forms a compound that inhibits the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen to organs and tissues. People with heart disease are especially sensitive to carbon monoxide poisoning and may experience chest pain if they breathe the gas while exercising. Infants, the elderly, and people with respiratory diseases are also particularly sensitive. Carbon monoxide can affect healthy individuals, reducing exercise capacity, visual perception, manual dexterity, learning functions, and the ability to perform complex tasks.

Motor vehicles emit several pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, and diesel particulate matter that EPA classifies as known or probable human carcinogens.

People exposed to high levels of air pollutants may increase their risk of getting cancer or experiencing other serious health effects. These can include damage to the immune system as well as neurological, reproductive (e.g., reduced fertility), developmental, respiratory, and other health problems. EPA estimates that car, truck, and bus emissions account for as much as half of all cancers attributed to outdoor sources of air toxins.

Ground-level ozone is a component of smog and a harmful pollutant. Even at relatively low levels, ozone may cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract, particularly during physical activity. The resulting symptoms can include breathing difficulty, coughing, stinging eyes, and throat irritation. Breathing ozone can affect breathing and worsen asthma attacks. Ozone can increase the susceptibility of the lungs to infections, allergens, and other air pollutants. Medical studies have shown that ozone damages lung tissue and complete recovery may take several days after exposure has ended. Children are the most at risk from exposure to ground-level ozone, since their respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults do.

When exposed to particle pollution, people with existing heart or lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart disease, or ischemic heart disease, are at increased risk of premature death or admission to hospitals or emergency rooms. The elderly also are sensitive to particle pollution exposure. When exposed to particle pollution, children and people with existing lung disease may not be able to breathe as deeply or vigorously as they normally would, and may experience symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath.


“People exposed to toxic air pollutants at sufficient concentrations and durations may have an increased chance of getting cancer or experiencing other serious health effects.”

“Particle pollution – especially fine particles – contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems.”

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