Air Pollution and Cancer

PollutionEvery day, your body is exposed to a variety of chemicals from the foods you eat, the beverages you drink, everyday household products, and the air you breathe. While some of these chemicals are harmless, others can have toxic effects on your health. Using an air filter in your home purifies the air, preventing cancer and other chronic illnesses.

Air Pollution Prevalence

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency released a landmark report estimating the concentrations of air pollutants across the United States. The report studied over 181 different air pollutants, 80 of which are thought to contribute to cancer formation in humans. For example, benzene is a toxin released from car exhaust that may lead to cancer. Approximately 30% of the cancers caused by air pollution are due to car exhaust; another 25% are due to local industrial activity. Los Angeles, New York City, and other urban areas have high levels of air pollution that may increase your cancer risk. Rural areas and places with low industrial manufacturing tend to have purer air.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Cancer Rates?

Several types of air pollutants may increase your risk of cancer. One of the most dangerous risks is developing lung cancer, which kills over 158,000 Americans each year. A 2002 study found that long-term exposure to air pollution is just as harmful as living with a smoker and being exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke. Breathing polluted air may increase your lung cancer risk by 16% to 24%. A more recent study, published in 2011, found that nonsmokers who live in areas with high air pollution are 20% more likely to die from lung cancer than those who live in areas with purer air.

Air pollution is also linked to breast cancer. A 2010 study from researchers at McGill University found that traffic-related air pollution may cause post-menopausal breast cancer. Women who live in areas with high pollution from traffic are twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those who live in areas with clean air.

One particular air pollutant, benzene, is well-known as a carcinogen. Benzene is released into the air from gasoline, vehicle exhaust fumes, factory emissions, and waste water from certain industrial activities. People who live near heavy traffic, industrial factories, and gas stations tend to breathe in more benzene from the air. Benzene exposure increases your risk of acute myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the American Cancer Society.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself from Air Pollution and Cancer?

The best way to prevent getting cancer from air pollutants is to reduce your exposure to the carcinogens. If you live in a neighborhood with heavy traffic, large factories that release smoke or gases, coal power plants, or other sources of pollution, consider moving to an area with cleaner air. If a move is not feasible, limit your time outdoors in areas with high air pollution.

Another solution to limit your exposure to pollutants is to invest in an air purifier. Some room air purifiers are designed to clean the air in a relatively small space, while home purifiers filter the air throughout your home. Look for a purifer with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. All HEPA filters must satisfy certain requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Energy. These high-quality filters must remove 99.97% of particles larger than 0.3 micrometers in size.

The cost of air filters varies by the type you get. In general, a high-quality HEPA filter for a single room will cost between $50 and $150. A purifier designed to clean the air in your entire house may cost from $400 to $1,500 or more. Home purifiers often connect to your central air conditioning system to push purified air throughout your home.

In addition to filtering your air of cancer-causing agents, an air purifier may improve your respiratory function. People with allergies or asthma often report fewer symptoms when using an air purification system.

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