Why Are Air and Water Quality Important to Health?
Clean air and water support healthy brain and body function, growth, and development. Air pollutants such as fine particulate matter, ground-level ozone, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and greenhouse gases can harm our health and the environment . Excess nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, medicines, chemicals, lead, and pesticides in water also pose threats to well-being and quality of life .
In 2015, 40 million people—1 in 8 Americans—had been diagnosed with asthma . Air pollution is associated with increased asthma rates and can aggravate asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other lung diseases, damage airways and lungs, and increase the risk of premature death from heart or lung disease. Using 2009 data, the CDC’s Tracking Network calculates that a 10% reduction in fine particulate matter could prevent over 13,000 deaths per year in the US .
While drinking water safety is improving, a 2012 study estimates that contaminants in drinking water sicken up to 1.1 million people per year . Improper medicine disposal, chemical, pesticide, and microbiological contaminants in water can lead to poisoning, gastro-intestinal illnesses, eye infections, increased cancer risk, and many other health problems .
Poor surface water quality can also make lakes unsafe for swimming and wild fish unsafe for consumption. Nitrogen pollution and harmful algae blooms create toxins in water, which can lead to rashes, stomach or liver illness, respiratory problems, and neurological effects when people ingest or come into contact with polluted water. Water pollution also threatens wildlife habitats .
Communities can adopt and implement various strategies to improve and protect the quality of their air and water, supporting healthy people and environments.