What Pollutes the Air We Breathe?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is one of the world’s largest threats to human health and the environment, with one in eight global death counts linked to it. As it is (technically) not an illness, air pollution is not considered a cause of death.


However, the contaminants that cause poor air quality contribute to a range of illnesses – including cancer, coronary artery disease, emphysema, respiratory infections, stroke, and other lung and heart problems. It also aggravates conditions like asthma, chronic cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, and diabetes. Likewise, air pollution is even more harmful for children, the elderly, and pregnant women.


As such, it’s vital that we learn what pollutes the air we breathe, how it affects our body, and what we can do to reduce the health risks of air pollution.


What Pollutes the Air?


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified six common criteria air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. These include carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide.


Carbon Monoxide (CO)


Known as a silent killer, CO is a colorless, odorless gas that is critical to your heart and brain functions. At high levels, it can lead to confusion, dizziness, unconsciousness, and worse, serious illnesses and deaths.


This gas is released when an appliance or device burns fuel like coal, gasoline, kerosene, methane, oil, natural gas, or wood. The common sources of CO are cars, motor vehicles, and machinery that burn fossil fuels. In your home, this can come from charcoal and gas grills, chimneys and furnaces, gas stoves, generators, fireplaces, space heaters,




Lead commonly comes from fossil fuels in vehicle gasoline, lead-based paint, metals and ores, and some type of industrial facilities. At home, lead can be found in batteries, ceramics, cosmetics, pipes, and plumbing materials. It can also come from industrial sources like aircraft engines, and mining and smelting sites. Lead can travel quite far and contaminate particles and groundwater.


Once in the body, lead spreads through the blood and accumulates in the bones. This can cause health problems in the cardiovascular, developmental, immune, nervous, and, reproductive systems. Lead exposure also results in behavioral problems, kidney failure, learning deficits, and neurological problems, especially for those individuals affected at a young age.


Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)


NO2 is a highly reactive gas that forms from burned fossil fuels like coal, diesel, gas, and oil. Commonly, this come from emissions of vehicles, buses, trucks, construction equipment, and power plants. When indoors, it forms when charcoal, natural gas, and wood are burned.


High concentrations of NO2 lead to respiratory problems like asthma, coughing, difficulty in breathing, and wheezing. Longer exposure causes inflamed airways, reduced lung function, and severe respiratory infections. Children, the elderly, and people with prior health conditions are more susceptible to the effects of NO2.


Ground-Level Ozone


This type of ozone, which is transported by wind, forms from the chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. Usually, this is emitted by cars, chemical plants, industrial boilers, power plants, refineries, and other sources that react chemically to sunlight.


Exposure to high-level ozone can cause asthma attacks, bronchitis, emphysema, coughing, a sore throat, and damaged or inflamed airways. It can also lead to pain when taking deep breaths, aggravated lung diseases, and weakened respiratory functions. People with asthma, children, older people, and those working outdoors are at higher risks when exposed to ground-level ozone.

Some air purifiers on the market use ozone as the source of purification, which, as outlined above, can pose a significant health risk. Sans is completely ozone-free, providing effective and healthy home air purification


Particulate Matter


When particles like dirt, dust, smoke, or soot are mixed with liquid droplets found in the air, they form particulate matter. Some are emitted directly from construction sites, fields, fires, smokestacks, or unpaved roads. Others come from reactions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are emitted by automobiles, industrial sources, and power plants.


Exposure to particulate matter has adverse effects on people’s heart and lung functions. It can lead to a variety of problems like aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, irritation of the airways, heart attacks, and at its worst, premature death.


Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)


SO2 is a colorless, highly reactive gas that’s produced from the burning of fossil fuels, like coal and oil, by power plants and industrial facilities. This pollutant can also be emitted from ore extraction, locomotives, motor vehicles, and heavy equipment that burns sulfur-containing fuel.


Short-term effects of SO2 include breathing problems, chest tightness, narrowing of airways, and wheezing. At higher concentrations or longer exposure, this can lead to aggravated cardiovascular or lung diseases as well as serious respiratory illnesses.


How Poor Air Quality Affects Us


When air travels from the nose to the lungs, some pollutants are caught by filters like cilia (hair in the nose) and the bronchi. However, some are able to avoid these traps, enter the bloodstream, and travel to various organ systems.  


When this happens, the immune system recognizes the foreign elements and responds by generating inflammation to remove them from within. This defense mechanism causes irritation and damage to the lungs.


Similarly, when pollutants enter the body, it’s hard to completely remove or eliminate them. Rather, they accumulate and get stored, resulting in a chronic low-level inflammation that endangers our health.


How to Improve Air Quality and Stay Healthy


According to Harvard Health, one of the best ways to improve the air quality in your home is to invest in an air purifier. This will help capture and cut down on some of the pollutants, especially the invisible ones, which may affect your health.


It must be noted that air purifiers come in many varieties. The EPA suggests that when choosing one for your home, be sure to consider how well it collects pollutants from indoor air and how much air it draws through its cleaning and filtration functions. It’s also essential that you position your air purifier in strategic locations within your home to get the most out of its benefits.


If you’re looking to manage the air quality in your home and at work, we can help. Sans air purifiers are equipped with a four-layer defense – the pre-filter, HEPA 13 filter, activated carbon filter, and UV-C light – to ensure that we capture both big and invisible particles when purifying the air you breathe. Essentially we designed Sans to capture all the threats listed above and more. 


Ready to take the next step? Shop with Sans today and feel the difference.