Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of developing respiratory illnesses such as allergic response, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer.
Inhalation of pollutants can occur in a variety of places. For example, car exhaust is a major problem in urban areas; small particles might be inhaled in certain work environments; and indoor air pollution also arises from cooking and heating with open fires or wood stoves. Other sources of indoor air pollution include mold, pollen, tobacco smoke, pet dander, pest allergens, and building materials like asbestos and formaldehyde. Air pollutants from forest fires and harmful algal blooms can also cause respiratory illness.
What NIEHS is doing
Environmental health scientists seek to better understand how exposure to various pollutants can lead to respiratory illnesses and the role that a person’s genetics plays in this process. This information could help prevent and treat these illnesses and aid in identifying who is the most vulnerable to air pollution.
NIEHS-funded researchers are examining how various exposures lead to lung cancer and other diseases, how pollution affects asthma, and the possible health consequences of inhaling nanoparticles. They are also working on ways to help people cope with or prevent indoor air pollution in countries such as Nepal and Ghana, and are developing new technology for detecting and measuring air pollution.
NIEHS research has already resulted in more stringent air quality standards and has reduced the costs associated with respiratory disease. As research in this area advances, it will continue to improve health and protect quality of life.
For additional information on what NIEHS grantees are doing, visit our Who We Fund tool.