Health problems caused by air pollution
Air pollutants can cause asthma, chronic coughing, bronchitis and other respiratory and lung diseases. In extreme cases, air pollution can cause premature death. Air pollution is generally harmful to all human beings, but especially to the elderly, the sick, children and foetuses. Infants and small children are especially susceptible to infections of the air passages because their immune system and lungs are not yet fully developed at birth. For people who suffer from asthma, polluted air can trigger asthma attacks. Inflammations may weaken the body's defences, particularly among the elderly. The cardiovascular system is subjected to strain, as it has to work harder to compensate for the lack of oxygen. This may manifest in heart rhythm disturbances and heart attacks.
Despite the many measures taken in recent years to improve air quality, pollution remains a problem. Air pollution is a factor in the premature death of around 2,200 people.
Respiratory and cardiovascular disorders caused by air pollution are responsible for around 14,000 hospital days in Switzerland each year. Breathing in polluted air causes approximately 12,000 cases of acute bronchitis in children and around 2,300 new cases of chronic bronchitis in adults, as well as approximately 3.5 million days of restricted activity for adults. This generates annual healthcare costs of around CHF 6.5 billion, of which CHF 3.3 billion is transport-related. Transport-related effects are those caused by road, rail, air and waterborne transport.
In Switzerland, the long-term health effects of air pollution are investigated in the Swiss Cohort Study on Air Pollution and Lung and Heart Diseases in Adults (SAPALDIA). However, this and other international studies also indicate that the health of children and adults improves quite rapidly if the atmospheric pollutant load decreases. Actions to improve air quality thus have a measurable positive impact on public health.
- Related indicators
- Costs of health impacts of air pollution
Various studies have quantified and monetarised the health impacts of air pollution in Switzerland, taking PM10 as an indicator of the level of health damage. These studies were carried out jointly by epidemiologists, air hygiene experts and economists.
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