Health Effects


Q: How does poor air quality affect our health?

A: In the United States each year, air pollution causes 70,000 deaths – three times the number caused by traffic accidents. In North Carolina each year, air pollution leads to an estimated

  • 3,000 premature deaths;
  • 6,000 hospital admissions for respiratory disease and another 2,000 for cardiovascular disease;
  • 1,500 new cases of asthma and 2,500 cases of chronic bronchitis in adults.

Who is most susceptible to the effects of air pollution?

A: Children and the elderly – more than 115,000 in Rowan and Cabarrus – as well as people with lung disease and those who work or exercise outdoors are particularly susceptible.

Why are children more susceptible?

A: Since children have a higher breathing rate than adults relative to their body weight and lung area surface, polluted air affects them more. They also have narrower airways than adults. Consequently, air pollution that would produce only moderate irritation in adults can cause serious problems in a young child.

Q: How does traffic-related air pollution impact us?

A: A number of diseases have been linked to the air pollution related to vehicle emissions, including asthma, lung cancer, Hodgkin’s disease and heart attacks.

Q: How are children impacted by traffic-related air pollution?

A: A study in 2005 by the Environmental Defense Fund, reported that the risk of asthma increased 89 percent for each quarter-mile closer children lived to a major roadway. A follow-up study two years later discovered that children who live within about 1,500 feet of major roadway experienced decreased air flow in their lungs.

Q: Can unborn children be affected by air pollution?

A: A study released in August 2009 suggests that smog may have an adverse affect on the developing brain. Children whose mothers were exposed to the most pollution before birth scored an average of 4-5 points lower on IQ tests than children whose mothers experienced less exposure.

Q: How does dirty air impact people with asthma?

A: Smog and soot worsen asthma and trigger attacks. Some evidence suggests that ozone and diesel exhaust particles may actually cause asthma in some cases. Nearly 2/3 of those who suffer from asthma live in an area where at least one federal air-quality standard is not being met.

Q: How does air pollution impact our health costs?

A: North Carolinians paid $100 million in 2001 for treatment of children with asthma, an air pollution-related illness. Our state’s citizens miss an estimated 500,000 days of work each year because of illness caused by air pollution.