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Your Environment. Your Health.

Lung Diseases


x-ray of lungs

Lung disease refers to any disease or disorder in which the lungs do not function properly. Lung disease is the third leading killer in the United States, responsible for one in seven deaths, and is the leading cause of death among infants under the age of one. Some lung diseases, like asthma and emphysema , involve a narrowing or blockage of the airways resulting in poor air flow. Others, including pulmonary fibrosis , pneumonia and lung cancer, are caused by a loss of elasticity in the lungs that produces a decrease in the total volume of air that the lungs are able to hold. Research has shown that long-term exposure to air pollutants can reduce lung growth and development and increase the risk of developing asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory diseases. Results from the NIEHS-supported Harvard Six Cities Study, the largest available database on the health effects of outdoor and indoor air pollution, show a strong association between exposure to ozone , fine particles and sulfur dioxide , and an increase in respiratory symptoms, reduced lung capacity, and risk of early death.

What is NIEHS Doing?

  • 14th Report on Carcinogens - A congressionally mandated, science-based, public health document that NTP prepares for the HHS Secretary. This cumulative report currently includes 248 listings of agents, substances, mixtures, and exposure circumstances that are known or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.
  • Cross-Divisional Inflammation Faculty - The cross-divisional inflammation faculty is a trans-NIEHS collaboration on cutting-edge research related to Inflammation.
  • Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Cookstove - smoke contributes to a range of chronic illnesses and acute health impacts such as low birth weight and acute pneumonia in children under 5, lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and cardiovascular disease.
  • LIFE and VALID Lung Studies - The Lung Imaging Fluorescence Endoscopy (LIFE) Study−a collaborative effort between NIEHS and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine−investigated both LIFE and various molecular techniques for detecting and following early lung lesions in patients with a high risk for developing lung cancer.
  • Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) - PEPH is a network of scientists, community members, educators, healthcare providers, public health officials, and policymakers who share the goal of increasing the impact of environmental public health research at the local, regional, and national level.
  • Programs and Initiatives: Climate Change and Human Health - The major public health organizations of the world have said that climate change is a critical public health problem.
  • The Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health(1MB) - A Report Outlining the Research Needs on the Human Health Effects of Climate Change
  • Valley Fever(82KB) - Valley Fever is a fungus that grows and lives in the soil throughout the southwestern desert regions of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah; northern Mexico, and portions of Central and South America. The valley fever fungus is most prevalent between June and November. If you inhale the valley fever spores, you may develop a lung infection. This factsheet was prepared under the Community Assist of Southern Arizona (CASA).

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Printable Fact Sheets

  • Captafol Profile: Report on Carcinogens - U.S. workers previously were exposed to captafol during its production, formulation, or application to agricultural fields; on reentry to a sprayed field; or when working with treated timber products.
  • Respiratory Disease and the Environment(1MB) - Respiratory diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, influenza and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are complex disorders that involve multiple components.

Additional Resources

Related Health Topics