How does air pollution affect poverty?

In this blog post, we will discuss “How does air pollution affect poverty?” Firstly, the article will discuss the basics of air pollution. Then, we will briefly describe poverty. After that, the article will mainly outline the association between poor air quality and poverty. In the end, the blog post will provide comprehensive solutions to lessen air pollution.

How does air pollution affect poverty?

Air pollution affects the communities or people living in the poverty zone the most. Higher exposure to air pollution causes an increase in respiratory disorders, mental disorders and a high mortality rate. Other than air pollution, these are the following factors that cause poverty:

  • Lack of settlements
  • Inaccessibility to clean and safe water resources
  • Food insecurity
  • Physical disabilities
  • Unemployment
  • Gender Discrimination
  • Corruption
  • Environmental Disasters

First, let’s see the basics of air pollution.

What is air pollution?

The introduction of harmful agents into the atmosphere is known as air pollution. The toxic agents are known as pollutants. These pollutants are derived from natural and human activities, and they can be chemical or biological.

Major pollutants present in the air are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), NO2, SO2, and CO. Air also has lead, allergens, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Besides climate change, air pollution has become a significant environmental risk to human health. 

What is Outdoor and Indoor pollution?

Air pollution in the outside environment is called outdoor pollution. The examples of outdoor pollution are as follows:

  • Transportation
  • Combustion of fossil fuel
  •  Cooking activities
  • Energy generation and consumption
  • Agriculture
  •  Improper Solid Waste Management
  • Industries and factories
  • Household pollution
  • Celebrations
  • Construction and demolition

Air pollution created inside any closed structure is called indoor pollution. The examples of indoor pollution are as follows:

  • Household activities 
  • Perfumes and fresheners 
  • Cooking fuel/activities
  • Cigarette 
  • Radon 
  • Poor ventilation 
  • Uncleaned furniture 
  • Pets 
  • Asbestos

 There are two leading causes of air pollution- natural pollution (happened due to natural events like dust storms) and anthropogenic pollution (happened due to human activities like combustion of fossil fuels).

What is AQI, and what levels make it unhealthy?

WHO has set up the air quality guidelines to regulate the emissions; however, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has calculated its own AQI to safeguard the public health of Americans. 

Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has determined the air quality index (AQI) to know the air quality you inhale. The table given below will show how the air quality index looks like.

Air Quality Index (AQI)Levels of Health Concern
(When the AQI is in this range)(air quality conditions are)
0 to 50Good           
51 to 100Moderate
101 to 150Unhealthy for Sensitive group
151 to 200Unhealthy
201 to 300Very Unhealthy
301 to 500Hazardous

The primary purpose of AQI is to inform residents about the impact of local air quality on their health. The Environment Protection Agency calculates the AQI for five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

The meaning of the Air quality index as mentioned earlier categories are as follows:

Meaning
Air quality is considered satisfactory; air pollution is of little or no risk.
Air quality is acceptable; some pollutants present in the air might be dangerous for a minority of people who are very sensitive to air pollution.
Members of sensitive groups may get ill effects. However, the general public is likely not to get affected.
This air quality level can pose a threat to everyone. However, members of sensitive people may experience more severe effects.
Emergency level of air quality; Entire population might be affected
Health alert: Every person breathing such air quality may get serious health issues.

 Thus, it is clear that excluding the first two levels are relatively good to venture out and to do various outdoor activities. However, the last three levels will give you or other adverse effects by inhaling dirty air. 

Now, let’s know the meaning of poverty.

What is poverty?

Poverty is a condition in which an individual or community is deprived of the financial resources and necessities for a minimum standard of living. The other meaning of poverty is low-income level from employment, and that basic human needs cannot be satisfied. People facing poverty are usually deprived of proper housing, clean and accessible water, healthy and nutrition-rich food and inadequate medical attention. The poverty criteria vary from different countries, and each of them decides their threshold to determine the number of people living in poverty. 

The poverty status in the United States is established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Further, the US Bureau of Census calculates the poverty rates in American demo graphs. So, according to the Census carried out in 2018, more than 38.1 million people in the United States lived below the poverty line. However, the measurement of poverty doesn’t include the people such as institutionalized people, people living in military areas and college dormitories and residents under the age of fifteen.

In general, the causes of poverty are as follows:

  • Lack of settlements
  • Inaccessibility to clean and safe water resources
  • Food insecurity
  • Physical disabilities
  • Unemployment
  • Gender Discrimination
  • Corruption
  • Environmental Disasters

Currently, air pollution is also added to the above list. So let’s find out the reason.

Does poor air quality affect poverty?

Yes, poor air quality affects poverty. Air pollution is one of the significant challenges humans and the environment alike face. Air pollution often challenges various factors related to humans, such as public health, human rights and the economy. Poor air quality also disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable people of the communities. 

Air pollution is strongly associated with poverty. Roughly 92% of air pollution-related deaths happen in low and middle-income countries. Among them, children face significant risks of air pollution. Even the little exposure to air pollution can lead to lifelong diseases such as asthma and other cardiovascular diseases. In addition, elevated levels of air pollution can cause premature deaths too. Also, the effects due to pollution can prove expensive. Air pollution-related ailments can increase medical expenses and increase healthcare systems’ burden. Moreover, constant exposure to air pollution can decrease productivity and economic growth. Because of poor air quality, welfare losses are approximately $4.6 trillion per year.

According to the NIEHS-funded review called Socioeconomic Disparities and Air Pollution Exposures: A Global Review, air pollution affects people coming under socioeconomic status (SES). The study outlined that air pollution is higher in poorer communities, although the results differ in various areas of the world. Most of the investigations in North America denoted that low-SES groups experience elevated concentrations of criteria air pollutants.

However, European research was different. In Europe, most wealthy people are exposed to higher levels of air pollution. Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply to same adverse health effects. The researchers further noted the influence of worst air quality in more significant numbers of SES groups, possibly related to large, metropolitan cities like Rome. However, in the same cities as Rome, people with higher incomes reside in desirable areas with more amenities. As a result, they are exposed to upsurge levels of air pollution due to vehicular traffic.

In contrast to Europe, research conducted in Asia, Africa, and other world regions was similar to North America. For instance, the poor communities in Ghana are most exposed to particulate pollution. The review finally stated that while the trends are persistent, it is challenging to study the happening of the entire continent based on one study. 

 The United Nations of Environmental Programme (UNEP) has expressly stated that the worst air quality impacts the poorer people. The UNEP also further noted that pollution-linked deaths occur in developing nations. This generally happens where environmental laws are weak and improperly imposed by their respective governments. Also, vehicular emission standards in such regions are not very strict, and the use of coals in power plants is more prevalent. In the big cities of such countries, the poor communities live in overcrowded informal settlements. These settlements are often situated near open garbage lands and sources such as power plants or railway stations, primary contributors to air pollution.

One such instance is Nairobi in Kenya. There is substantial open waste dump land in Dandora in the city’s eastern outskirts, situated adjacent to schools, churches, clinics, and shops. Then the residents living in nearby places such as Canaan are exposed to the toxic fumes from the garbage. These fumes affect the overall health of children. Moreover, informal settlements don’t possess a good quality ventilation system and clean fuels in the kitchen.

In such cases, indoor air quality is not at healthy levels. Generally, in rural areas and some parts of the cities, wood, charcoal, kerosene and other materials are used for heating, lighting and cooking purposes. This use of fossil fuels causes low air quality. Thus, exposure to carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and other toxic gases severely affect the women’s respiratory system and children coming into the poverty line.

According to the American Lung Association, poorer people in the United States are at risk of respiratory diseases. However, many epidemiologists have observed that the effects of air pollution don’t equally affect a region’s demography. For example, financially backwards people can get the heat of air pollution and selected racial and ethnic groups. The American Lung Association researched such visible differences and observed that some people of a racial or ethnic group have some distinct points for their lung conditions.

Firstly, they have a low socioeconomic position, and they cannot afford some of the appliances like an air purifier to improve the air quality. Secondly, the lack of awareness and education—the less educational background make them less aware of the basics of air pollution. Lastly, their settlements are closer to the major contributor of pollution—although there is much less to say here, their financial constraints make them settle in the affordable areas.

The latest assessment conducted by the EPA about particulate exposure revealed that non-white populations were more affected than the others. The most vulnerable people to the particulate pollution in the United States were the blacks. Asthma and the Allergy Foundation of America noted that black Americans are five times more at risk than white Americans to visit the emergency department due to asthma.

Another research conducted by American scientists found out that African Americans are at greater risk from toxic airborne pollutants originating from traffic sources. Now, you must wonder why such disparity exists in air pollution and its connection to poverty. For many decades, there have been residential segregation; African Americans are compelled to live with elevated air pollution concentrations.

The American Lung Association further said that air pollution significantly impacted socioeconomic status. Also, many general theories have shown strong evidence of this association. People coming under socioeconomic position are at significant risk of premature death due to exposure to fine particulate pollution. Medicare studied that this is the highest pollution-related mortality worldwide. Back in 2008, the researchers discovered more cases of premature deaths in the African American population. Researchers also found that poor people live in areas with higher unemployment or higher use of public transportation.

In Washington, DC, Medicaid was enrolled by people strongly exposed to air pollution and asthma attacks. In another study done in 2016, early deaths were higher yet again in this community in New Jersey. The African Americans living in New Jersey resided in improper settlements and had low median income. Another medical research study in Atlanta, GA, revealed that elevated levels of particulate matter aggravated the risk of asthma attacks in people where the poverty level was high.

The Bottom line

Even though it is torturous to all living beings on the earth, air pollution affects most of the people coming to the poverty line. Such people either live in rural areas or overcrowded and improper settlements. These settlements are usually located near the sources contributing the highest amounts of air pollution. Their houses also generally don’t have access to clean fuels and lack ventilation.

Thus, the mixture of ambient and indoor air pollution affects their health. Researchers also observed that people of colour are most affected in North America. This is because there is class bias in housing markets. Epidemiologists often observe that higher land costs and expensive houses tend African Americans to live in areas close to air pollution sources. Besides, the poor people lack health care facilities, education, less job availability, higher traffic exposure and unclean localities. These factors prevent them from purchasing any appliances or even good quality masks.

  What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

I will elaborate on some of the measures to protect yourself from air pollution.

Personal Hygiene

You can also fight the effects of air pollution by maintaining personal hygiene:

  • You can cut your nails short to avoid the accumulation of dirt. 
  • You can also practice mouth gargling after coming home to free your mouth from unwanted guests.
  • You can also brush twice a day to keep airborne infections at bay.
  • You can also take steam therapy at home to cleanse your lungs.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes, hookahs (shisha), electric vape or any other types of cigars are not at all suitable for your health. It’s best to stop smoking. Active and passive smoking provides the direct entry of harmful pollutants into your body. This causes the risk to your respiration and other organs dependent on it. 

Physical Exercise 

Physical activities have many benefits to your body. It not only improves your stamina and immunity levels but also helps to increase your lung capacity. Yoga, sanas, swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking and dancing are some of the best forms of exercise to improve your health.

Breathing Exercise 

The majority of people in the world don’t breathe properly. However, correct breathing techniques can keep illnesses due to air pollution at bay. A pranayama is a form of yoga asana which helps to improve breathing methods and lung functionality.

Some of the pranayama types that help you fight air pollution are Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, Chandra Nadi, Surya Nadi and Bhastrika. It is strongly recommended to learn this art of breath from a well-certified yoga trainer. 

You can also increase your lung muscles by simply taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of 10. Then, slowly breathe out the air. If you can keep your breath for a longer time, then you have good lungs health.

Good diet 

Always go for a well-balanced diet to remain fit and strong. Consistent eating of junk and fast food will increase the risk of obesity and other diseases. In addition, such people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. Instead, add more fresh veggies and fruits to your diet. Also, you can consume less meat to minimise carbon footprints.

You can also add anti-inflammatory foods as these types of food help to cleanse your lungs effectively. Anti-inflammatory foods which I recommend are: 

Immunity booster drinks

You can do your immunity booster drinks by using readily available items in your kitchen. Immunity booster drinks help to cleanse your lungs. Some of the DIY immunity booster drinks are as follows:

  • Take a glass of warm white milk. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to it. Also, add two strands of saffron to it. Drink it at night before sleeping. You will get good sleep, and you will be relieved from chest congestion. 
  • Boil water by adding half cinnamon stick. Drink the spice-infused water once a day. Your sinuses would be cleared up. 
  • Buy an excellent green tea. Prepare a green tea by following the packet instructions. Have it whenever you feel irritation in your throat. 
  • Take some crushed 1 or 2 peppercorns, a half-inch of a blade of lemongrass and 1 inch of grated ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add everything in one glass of boiling water and reduce it to half a glass. Drink two tablespoons of this spice-infused warm water every after three hours. Adding honey is optional. 
  • You can also drink warm water and add honey if you want. Honey helps to relieve throat irritation.

Use Mask

Mask can prevent you from inhaling the polluted air. You would be able to work in contaminated areas without any fear of allergy infections and stress. 

Masks I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced NanotechnologyUser FriendlyMore Durable Six layers face maskFilter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers mask Flexible nose pad, dual strapsDisposable maskEasy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cotton Skin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filterReusable Mask

How can I individually reduce air pollution?

You can always try your level best to minimise air pollution. The following are the methods to reduce air pollution at an individual level.

Plant Trees

Encourage tree plantation drives amongst the communities. You can be a green saviour of your region. Trees are the natural air purifiers of the environment, and it supplies us with clean air.

Municipal councils or the local authorities can develop urban forests to increase the green cover of the locality. They can also plan to create vertical green walls to improve oxygen levels of the region naturally. But don’t forget to plant only indigenous trees. 

Human/ religious celebrations in eco-friendly ways 

Nowadays, many couples celebrate gender (of their baby) revealing parties by bursting firecrackers. But, unfortunately, these firecrackers can transform into massive wildfires if they are burst near trees.

Thus, you can celebrate such celebrations by planting trees in your nearby barren land. Bursting firecrackers on any religious, festive or personal occasion are only going to harm your loved ones. 

You can also celebrate Christmas by not cutting Christmas Trees. Instead, you can buy artificial ones and use them in the coming years too.

Discourage Plastic

Single-use plastic has been one of the major concerns in the environment. Plastic pollution indirectly contributes to the degradation of air quality. Plastic, when burned, releases various toxic gases such as dioxins into the air.

Encourage alternative use of the plastic product. For example, you can wear a cloth bag for shopping. You can also carry your travel cutlery set to a restaurant. Additionally, you can take your water bottle instead of purchasing a packaged drinking water bottle every time.

Use of public transportation 

Increase the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. You can also try carpooling or the cab sharing option. Then, you can also use bicycles instead of scooters. Lastly, you can always opt for walking a shorter distance. 

Alternative use of fossil fuel

It would be best to try switching to other fuel alternatives. For example, don’t use wood for the fireplace. Instead, you can wear multiple layers of clothes for warmth. In this way, you can conserve energy. Additionally, you can also install solar panels on house roofs to convert solar energy into electricity. 

You can also buy electric and hybrid vehicles to minimise tailpipe emissions. Finally, propose or discuss a plan with your mayor or any relevant local authority to promote your region’s renewable energy sector.

Reduction of personal carbon footprints

You can also keep a check on your carbon footprints. For example, you can delete unwanted photos, videos or emails from clouds and email boxes as and when possible. Unfortunately, this unwanted stuff takes a lot of energy, which indirectly contributes to air pollution.

You can also switch off the lights and electrical appliances of the vacant rooms. Try buying local products instead of imported ones. Be vocal about them. You can also discover your own country rather than travelling to different ones.

Create Awareness

Air pollution is unpredictable; air pollution in your vicinity can affect people living in Asia and vice-a-versa. However, you can create public awareness about air pollution amongst your community by teaching and interacting with your kids about the importance of good air. 

Educate youth by telling them the ill effects of poor air quality. Then, let your country’s future know that they deserve a better place to live!

How can the local authorities improve the air quality of your region?

You can always observe the changes happening in your surrounding nature. If you experience bad air quality or any activities producing air pollution, you can always concern relevant local authorities or the mayor.

Here are some methods which local authorities can do.

Proper disposal of waste 

Improper solid waste management of an area is an invitation to many diseases and infections. In addition, burning solid waste in public can cause air pollution, although such practices are rare in the US. 

The wastes are mainly disposed of in the engineered landfills and recycled before final disposal to landfills and waste incinerators. 

In addition, waste incinerators help to convert waste into energy.

However, many researchers have claimed that gasification technology or waste-to-energy technology may release harmful gaseous contaminants. Thus, it is necessary that waste collectors rigorously segregate the waste before sending it to waste incinerators. 

The best solution is to minimise waste at a personal level. Statistically, 70% of the waste generated can be recycled effectively. Thus, strive to recycle your waste at a personal level as much as possible.

Reducing air pollution from agriculture

Stubble burning is still practised in some parts of the US. This event contributes to the degradation of air. Local authorities can help farmers convert this waste into cattle fodder or be transformed into pellets as fuel. In addition, farmers should stop the usage of harmful pesticides or fertilisers to decrease air pollution.

How can I reduce indoor air pollution?

Maintaining household or indoor hygiene

You can decrease poor air quality by adequately maintaining indoor hygiene. For example, you can frequently clean your cupboards and open decks to avoid an accumulation of dust particles. You can then vacuum your carpets and sofas at least twice a week. 

Make sure your doggies and cats are well-groomed. Use chimneys and exhaust fans in kitchens. You can also install an exhaust fan in washrooms. Always make sure you are keeping your house well ventilated. 

Keep doors and windows open when possible. Maintain the health of electric appliances such as heaters, humidifiers, AC, fans, air ducts and so on at regular intervals of the year. Avoid overuse of strong perfumes or strong scented candles indoors. You can additionally use indoor plants to make your indoors more lively and fresh.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants do the same work as outdoor ones- they help to purify indoor air naturally. These indoor plants are also easy to maintain.

The indoor plants which I recommend are as follows: 

Air purifiers

Air purifiers help to improve indoor air quality. The risk of getting air pollution-related diseases decreases due to the use of air purifiers. Air purifiers having good HEPA filters do an adequate job of filtering pollutants.

Air Purifiers I recommend are as follows:

NameWhy I recommend it
Blueair Pro XL Air Purifier99.7% of airborne pollutants such as mould, allergens, smoke particles and pollens are captured. 
AIRMEGA 400SReduction of 99.97% of particulates of 0.3 microns. Also responsible for reducing more than 99% of VOCs, NH3 and CH3CHO.Washable and permanent pre-filters are available 
Blueair Pure 121Includes 3-part filtration system. Captures 99% of common airborne PM 2.5 pollutants such as allergens, odours, smoke, mould spores, dust mites and pet dander.An activated carbon filter removes common odours caused by smoke, pets, and gases (VOCs) and smoke caused by wildfires.

Humidifiers

The humidity levels in the office should be maintained between 30 and 50% in the office. This range helps to keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. In addition, when AC or heater makes the air in the room dry, humidifiers can maintain correct humidity levels.

Humidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Amazon Basics Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier 4 litre of tank capacityAuto shut-off feature and 12 or 24-hour timer settingsIt can be used in both seasons
MOVTIP HumidifierPortable Mini-humidifier500 ml capacity, still produces longer mistsEasy to operate
LEVOIT HumidifierIt can be used for both seasons6 litres of capacity Easy to clean and has a remote control

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers also work similarly to humidifiers. It controls the high levels of humidity in the office.

Dehumidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Pro Breeze DehumidifierCan extract 50 pints of moisture a dayEnergy-saving auto-off systemBuilt-in Humidity sensor
HOmeLabs DehumidifierEliminates moistness, odour controllerEasy to cleanRemovable water tank
TCL Portable Dehumidifier20 pints of moisture removed per dayIt can be operated at low temperatures tooEasy to maintain

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

How does air pollution affect the heart?

How does air pollution affect humans?

How does air pollution affect insects?

Conclusion

We discussed “How does air pollution affect poverty in this blog post?” Firstly, the article discussed the basics of air pollution. Then, we briefly described poverty. Finally, the article mainly outlined the association between poor air quality and poverty. In the end, the blog post provided comprehensive solutions to lessen air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How does air pollution affect poverty?

Are poor people more affected by air pollution?

Yes, poor people are most affected by air pollution. This is because poor people are exposed to higher levels of air pollution when compared to the affluent class of society.

How does the environment affect poverty?

Various increased natural calamities such as hurricanes, wildfires and droughts have posed a significant risk to the lives of the frontline workers. These natural hazards can lead people to leave their settlements and suffer from hunger and livelihoods. Ultimately, this leads to conflict, hunger and poverty.

How does air pollution affect society?

Poor air quality is a significant environmental risk to human lives and the environment. When exposed to elevated levels of air pollution, people can get the chance of diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mental disorders. It can also lead to infant complications, such as congenital disabilities and low birth weight. 

What is the pollution of poverty?

Pollution of poverty is an environmental issue that leads to the lack of development rather than the development itself. These issues include poor water quality, improper housing and sanitation, malnutrition and other diseases.

What are the five causes of poverty?

The five causes of poverty are as follows:

  • Lack of Education
  • Climate Change
  • Air pollution
  • Hunger
  • Malnutrition

Who is most affected by air pollution?

The groups which are most affected by air pollution are as follows:

  • Elderly residents
  • Children
  • Women
  • People of colour
  • Economically backward section of the society
  • Pregnant women

Reference

Air pollution hurts the poorest most. UNEP. Available at: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/air-pollution-hurts-poorest-most  

Chen, J., 2021. Poverty. Investopedia. Available at: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/poverty.asp

Disparities in the Impact of Air Pollution. American Lung Association. Available at: https://www.lung.org/clean-air/outdoors/who-is-at-risk/disparities  

Failey, T., Poor communities exposed to elevated air pollution levels. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/geh_newsletter/2016/4/spotlight/poor_communities_exposed_to_elevated_air_pollution_levels.cfm

McCarthy, J., 2019. 3 ways people in poverty suffer the most from pollution. Global Citizen. Available at: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-pollution-affects-the-poor/  

Pollution and poverty. HEART. Available at: https://www.heart-resources.org/reading_pack/pollution-and-poverty/#:~:text=Pollution%20is%20strongly%20linked%20to,%2D%20and%20middle%2Dincome%20countries.&text=Pollution%2Drelated%20illnesses%20result%20in,lost%20productivity%20and%20economic%20growth  

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