Recent WHO figures have suggested that 1 in 8 deaths globally are directly related to air pollution, whereas 1 in 4 deaths in China are a direct consequence of both indoor and outdoor pollution.
Pollution is defined as the presence in, or introduction into the environment of, a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects.
When you ask most people what are the common causes of air pollution, the typical responses are industry and exhaust fumes from all forms of transport, apart from electrically driven machines such as most trains and now some cars.
But, when considering the strict definition of pollution, we often overlook the less obvious causes. Many pollution-related deaths are related to indoor pollution — typically from wood burning — and also the very obvious, cigarette smoke.
Other forms of pollution that are gaining increasing publicity, and rightfully causing alarm, are cold seam gas wells polluting our soils and waterways; the leaching of synthetic chemicals, also called Endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA, BPS, phthalates-to name a few, from items such as plastic bottles, other plastic containers and aluminium cans. Not to mention all manner of synthetic chemicals used in the cultivation, production and final delivery of many different types of foods. There are even significant concerns around certain aspects of agriculture such as modern wheat production, some minerals present in our soil and the herbicides used to cultivate the weight.
If all this was not enough, there is increasing evidence around the concerns of modern noise pollution. We are living in a very loud and noisy world. Those of us in urban areas are constantly bombarded with traffic noise, barking dogs and even noisy neighbours.
Many people are constantly pulverising their eardrums with earphones from their smartphones, listening to music well above the necessary decibel levels.
There have been a number of reports expressing concerns around the symptoms experienced by people living in close proximity to wind farms.
If all of the above is not bad enough, recent studies have focused on one of the increasing problems in our modern world which is that of aircraft noise. Thankfully, many of the modern jets are quieter but this does not stop certain people suffering health effects.
In the journal “Epidemiology” in 2007, a study involving 2000 people showed a clear link between long-term aircraft noise and high blood pressure.
In the BMJ report in 2013 of 6 million people, those with the highest level of aircraft noise exposure had a 3.5% increased cardiovascular admission rate.
A recent report from the 2016 EuroPrevent meeting looked at the link between aircraft noise, high blood pressure and asymptomatic organ damage. They followed 201 adults between the ages of 40–66 with 101 experiencing high-level aircraft noise over 3 years, greater than 60 dB compared with 100 who experienced a noise level below 55.
This was a European study where I must stress there are night time flights which may lead to much poorer sleep patterns and thus many of the poor health effects. Another explanation was the effect of the aircraft noise on increasing stress hormones.
Regardless, it appears clear that whether our physical stressors are chemical or noise, the detrimental health effects are apparent and certainly should influence public policy around many of the issues I have raised. There are many advantages to living in our modern world but in many ways the simpler, quieter life is much better for our health.