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Did you Know?

Smog-Related Illnesses

Smog, a term derived from the words ‘’smoke’’ and ‘’fog’’, consists of a mixture of pollutants in the Earth’s lower atmosphere. Two of the primary contaminants found in smog are ground-level ozone and air-borne particulate matter.

1. Can smog cause illness?

The more smog you inhale, the greater the possibility you have of suffering adverse health effects. People who are especially sensitive can experience symptoms after spending just one or two hours outside in a polluted environment.

The elderly are most at risk when it comes to smog, especially those who suffer ailments related to the lungs or heart. Children are also in danger because they breathe more rapidly – meaning they inhale more smog – and they tend to spend more time outdoors. Even healthy young adults breathe less efficiently on days when the air is highly polluted.

2. What negative health symptoms does smog cause?

Ground-level ozone affects the respiratory system and produces an inflammation of the respiratory channels that can persist for up to 18 hours after exposure to smog. It may result in a cough, shortness of breath or a feeling of tightness in the chest.

Smog can aggravate problems with the heart and lungs, and there is evidence that exposure to smog intensifies asthmatics’ sensitivity to allergens.

Air-borne particulates that are small enough to be inhaled by humans also can also pose a threat to health. Fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and interfere with the functioning of the respiratory system. These particles have been associated with an increase in asthma symptoms and hospital admissions - and even with premature death.

3. How can we prevent the negative impacts of smog?

Avoid outdoor exercise in the afternoons and early evenings on smoggy days, especially if you are elderly or suffer from any heart or lung ailments. If you have young children, limit the amount of time they play outside.

Avoid exercising near areas of heavy traffic, especially during rush hour, in order to minimize your exposure to the contaminants produced by motorized vehicles.

And lastly, follow measures to reduce the emission of pollutants. There are many things you can do to help curb the production of ground-level ozone and other components of smog.

4. Can smog cause death?

Though the lethal dangers of smog are not often seen these days, it should be remembered that when this pollution problem was identified in the mid-20th century, there were episodes of heavy mortality.

Some sad records were set in London, for example, where smog killed 600 people in 1948, some 3,000 in 1952, 1,000 more in 1956 and 750 in 1962.

* Includes information from the Canadian Ministry of Environment

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