Article Abstract

What can individuals do to reduce personal health risks from air pollution?

Authors: Robert Laumbach, Qingyu Meng, Howard Kipen

Abstract

In many areas of the world, concentrations of ambient air pollutants exceed levels associated with increased risk of acute and chronic health problems. While effective policies to reduce emissions at their sources are clearly preferable, some evidence supports the effectiveness of individual actions to reduce exposure and health risks. Personal exposure to ambient air pollution can be reduced on high air pollution days by staying indoors, reducing outdoor air infiltration to indoors, cleaning indoor air with air filters, and limiting physical exertion, especially outdoors and near air pollution sources. Limited evidence suggests that the use of respirators may be effective in some circumstances. Awareness of air pollution levels is facilitated by a growing number of public air quality alert systems. Avoiding exposure to air pollutants is especially important for susceptible individuals with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, children, and the elderly. Research on mechanisms underlying the adverse health effects of air pollution have suggested potential pharmaceutical or chemopreventive interventions, such as antioxidant or antithrombotic agents, but in the absence of data on health outcomes, no sound recommendations can be made for primary prevention. Health care providers and their patients should carefully consider individual circumstances related to outdoor and indoor air pollutant exposure levels and susceptibility to those air pollutants when deciding on a course of action to reduce personal exposure and health risks from ambient air pollutants. Careful consideration is especially warranted when interventions may have unintended negative consequences, such as when efforts to avoid exposure to air pollutants lead to reduced physical activity or when there is evidence that dietary supplements, such as antioxidants, have potential adverse health effects. These potential complications of partially effective personal interventions to reduce exposure or risk highlight the primary importance of reducing emissions of air pollutants at their sources.