What Effect Does Smog Have on Mesothelioma Patients?

Unsurprisingly, exposure to smog is bad for the health of people of all ages and backgrounds – even those in good health. As such, the effects of smog on mesothelioma patients are generally more intense than on healthy people of the same age, living in the same area. Because smog contains several types of chemicals, even short-term exposure can inflame the respiratory system.

At the University of Southern California, a study of areas with high air pollution linked poor air quality to a decrease of three years from patients’ lung cancer survival times.

Generally, heavy air pollution is known to increase the risk of respiratory cancers (similar to cancers caused by smoking tobacco cigarettes). Moreover, inhaling carcinogens (some of which are invisible to the naked eye) increases the risk for a range of health complications among those already diagnosed with cancer.

The health effects of exposure to smog include:

  • Asthma
  • Chest pain
  • Cough lasting at least 8 weeks
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Increased need for medical attention
  • Shortened life expectancy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

What’s in Smog?

Typically, the effects of smog are a result of the toxins that make up air pollution. Wildfires, car exhaust, and power plants and coal smoke release hazardous particles into the air. Depending on the area and time of year, these particles may interact with other airborne chemicals to form even more dangerous air quality levels. For instance, when gases from smokestacks and tailpipe exhaust interact with sunlight, the reaction forms ozone smog.

You may have heard of the ozone layer responsible for protecting Earth from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation (i.e., the stratosphere). Essentially, ozone is a simple gas molecule made up of three oxygen atoms (O3). However, the risk of health problems grows significantly when ozone forms close to the ground and mixes with toxic compounds. Additionally, the wind carries particles miles downwind to form ozone smog far from the source.

Air Pollution

Normally, the toxins found in smog and air pollution vary somewhat between states and urban and rural areas. For example, urban areas have higher concentrations of pollution from tailpipe smoke. Conversely, rural areas tend to experience pollution from forest fire smoke, dust storms, and pollen. Some common components of smog and air pollution include:

  • Black carbon – A type of particulate matter that specifically comes from burning fuel sources (like diesel gasoline, wood, and coal).
  • Nitrogen oxide – Usually, nitrogen oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) form in areas with heavy traffic. NO turns to NO2 in sunlight.
  • Ozone – Volatile organic chemicals interact in the atmosphere to create ozone. At ground level, ozone is dangerous to inhale.
  • Particulate matter (PM) – Includes airborne particles that can be dust, ash, or liquid droplets. PM ranges in size from coarse, fine, and ultrafine.
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2) – Fossil fuels with sulfur produce sulfur dioxide as they burn. Affected industries include coal, metal extraction and smelting, ship engines, and diesel equipment.

Health Effects of Air Pollution

In general, anyone can feel the effects of exposure to smog. In the U.S., many areas experience high rates of unhealthy ozone levels during the summer. As a result, many people feel the side effects of smog exposure right away. Breathing problems, respiratory infections, pulmonary inflammation, lung diseases (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer), and increased risk of mortality are potential complications from breathing in smog.

Principally, the size of the particles in smog determines the danger they cause. Consequently, smaller particles cause more internal damage than large ones. Usually, the body coughs up most large particulate matter (such as dust). Ultrafine particles, however, are small enough to pass through lung tissues and enter the bloodstream.

Health Impacts of Smog
Black carbon Increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Linked to asthma, bronchitis, COPD, hypertension, and various cancers.
Nitrogen oxide Increased risk of heart disease. Linked to (and worsens preexisting conditions) asthma and bronchitis.
Ozone Produces symptoms like chest pain, coughing, and throat irritation. Linked to decreased lung function and COPD. Worsens preexisting lung diseases.
Particulate matter Linked to nasal and upper respiratory tract infections, heart attack, asthma, stroke, bronchitis, premature death from heart disease, and lung cancers.
Sulfur dioxide Linked to eye irritation, asthma, respiratory infections, and cardiovascular problems.

Air Quality Index (AQI) for Mesothelioma Patients

Mesothelioma patients worried about the effects of smog must take steps to protect their health during periods of poor air quality. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works with local air quality groups to continuously monitor pollution levels. Typically, local weather stations and public radio channels provide the area’s daily air pollution and smog rating (given as numerical values on the Air Quality Index).

Due to the Clean Air Act, the AQI measures four types of pollution: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. When pollution levels are severe, cancer patients should adjust their routine to reduce exposure. For instance, sensitive groups are more likely to experience health problems on “code orange” days.

Commonly, people with mesothelioma have complications that make it difficult to breathe as well as make the risk of infection more dangerous. Smog, even on days when it’s invisible to the naked eye, can aggravate these side effects. Additionally, being over the age of 65 and having a history of heart attack or stroke are risk factors for smog-related effects.

AQI Resources

Mesothelioma patients and their families can use the following resources to monitor their local air quality.

  • Air Quality Data for Your Area from AirNow
  • Current Wildfire Locations and Smoke Map
  • EPA’s Guide to Air Quality and Your Health [PDF]

The table below illustrates the levels of danger associated with AQI numbers.

AQI Values Level of Health Concern Colors
When the AQI is in this range: …air quality conditions are: …as symbolized by this color:
0 to 50 Good Green
51 to 100 Moderate Yellow
101 to 150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Orange
151 to 200 Unhealthy Red
201 to 300 Very Unhealthy Purple
301 to 500 Hazardous Maroon

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