From conception, humans begin to interact with their environment and all through life it is a never ending relationship. Man has an influence on the environment and the environment has an influence on man. It is important to understand that the environment is anything that is external to man which can have an influence on his health. People have varied concepts of what an environment is, some say an environment is what they can see around them. However, the environment consists of physical, social and biological components which are constantly interacting with each other.
From the WHO definition of health which states that health is the state of complete physical, social and mental wellbeing of an individual and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, it can be deduced that being healthy depends on different factors which may broadly be classified as physical, social or mental/ psychological. Man’s physical environment comprises of the non-living part of his environment for example air, soil, water, temperature. The biological components include the living part of the environment, for example, plants and animals. The social environment consists of intangible components like culture, lifestyle, political or health systems amongst others.
Environmental health identifies ways of preventing adverse effects to the health of individuals living within an environment and promoting their health so all can live socially and economically productive lives. However, humans, by way of exploring their environment, engage in activities that may negatively affect the environment and their health. Many would argue that technology while trying to solve human problems, has directly or indirectly become the source of the problem.
In the world today, humans are exposed to several hazards in the environment and are constantly seeking ways to control or curtail the negative effects of such hazards on their health, as well as that of future generations. A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm. Some of the hazards man faces within his environment include air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, flooding, ultraviolet radiation, tobacco smoke, chemicals and others.
Air pollution can be described as a combination of natural and artificial substances in the air. It could be indoor or outdoor pollution. Air pollution causes death in about seven million people globally every year. In Nigeria, the use of traditional sources of fuel are very common. Studies from the assessment of indoor air quality might reveal that the measured level of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter are above regulatory limits in areas that use domestic cooking fuel predominantly.
To understand the concept of air pollution, it is important to know that clean air contains oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, neon, argon, helium, methane amongst others which are present in negligible quantities. Air pollution results from the presence of one or more contaminants in air in sufficient quantities, composition and characteristics as to cause injury to life, damage to materials and property or to interfere with normal activities. Some common air pollutants include suspended particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compound, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons, sulphur oxides and lead to mention a few. Common sources of air pollutants include soot, smoke, dust, combustion, incineration, fumes and others. Sometimes, outdoor air pollution can make its way indoors through open windows, doors, ventilation and so on. Air pollution is hard to escape no matter the area you live in. It is all around and people are exposed by inhalation/breathing which must be done. Engaging in activities that cause air pollution does not only affect the person involved but has far reaching consequences on the entire globe. This is because air pollution is closely linked to climate change. There are a wide range of health effects that can be attributed to air pollution, amongst which includes respiratory diseases, heart diseases, some cancers and even death. Sitting in traffic and inhaling fumes from the exhaust of automobiles is a common occurrence in our environment. The effects of air pollution goes beyond adverse effects experienced by living organisms, including humans but also the entire environment. Asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, skin diseases, muscle or joint pain, some cancers are among the many health effects of air pollution. Air pollutants may cause harm when inhaled or by absorption the skin. Considering the general impact of air pollution on health, its effects on the climate also affect health. For instance, increased levels of the greenhouse gases cause the depletion of the ozone layer which protects the earth’s surface from direct rays of the sun. With the layer constantly
being thinned out, more heat from the sun gets to the earth causing increased temperatures and warmer climates. As a result of increased temperatures, the water bodies become warmer and doesn’t favour aquatic life, the glaciers melt and the sea levels increase which may lead to flooding. Flooding cause displacement of people and its attendant consequences. Furthermore, the climate change causes disruption to the natural habitat of many wild animals, making them to get closer to humans thereby favouring the spread of zoonotic diseases. Tropical diseases like malaria are not left out as the warm climate encourages the breeding of vectors and also increases the exposure time of humans. All of these effects attributed to air pollution ultimately affect the quality of lives of people directly or indirectly. Hence, it is essential that individuals and communities, through inter -sectoral and multidisciplinary actions contribute towards maintaining a healthy environment. Some recommendations to check air pollution include:
• Adopting cleaner sources of fuel for cooking
• Development of renewable energy sources
• Ensuring implementation of emission regulations for industries.
• Ensuring adequate ventilation in houses
• Taking actions to expand, improve and promote public transport and reduce the number of automobiles emitting harmful substances.
• Regular health screening by individuals.
There are many more measures that can be applied to curtail the burden of air pollution.
of the week:
“The health effects of air pollution imperil human lives. This fact is well- documented.”- Eddie Bernice Johnson