Why is breathing polluted air dangerous?

4.2 million people die from outdoor air pollution annually

Even though we can’t see it, the air we breathe affects our health. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.2 million people die each year from illnesses related to outdoor air pollution. This is more than the number of deaths caused by car accidents.

The most dangerous pollutants in the air are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter (PM), and sulphur dioxide. There are many other air pollutants as well, but these are the most common ones.

Increased exposure is more dangerous

The longer we breathe polluted air, the worse the impacts are on our health. This is particularly a problem in urban areas with consistently high levels of air pollution such as Jakarta because our lungs cannot take a break from the pollution.

Research has shown that this sort of long-term exposure is as bad for our health as smoking up to 25 cigarettes a day. When pollutants enter our lungs, they affect many of our bodies’ systems: respiratory (breathing), cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), neurological (nerves), and others.

Air pollution causes short-term and long-term illnesses

Air pollution can cause short-term problems like headache, nausea, and difficulty breathing, and long-term problems like heart disease, stroke, and cancer. In fact, one-third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease are due to air pollution.

Air pollution worsens health conditions

Air pollution can also exacerbate pre-existing health problems such as allergies and asthma. It can also cause miscarriage in pregnant women and can lead to slower than normal physical and mental development in children.

The impact of air pollution on our life expectancy is worse than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, unhealthy behaviors like cigarette smoking, and even war. In Jakarta, the average resident will lose 4.8 years of life expectancy due to air pollution.

So, what influences air quality? Click through to learn more.


Air Quality Life Index. 2020. Indonesia Fact Sheet.

Berkeley Earth. http://berkeleyearth.org/archive/air-pollution-and-cigarette-equivalence/