Pollutants released by burning fossil fuels can have a harmful impact on human health by contributing to the four leading causes of death in the United States (cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke) and damaging the major organ systems of the body:
- Respiratory System: The burning of fossil fuels releases particulate matter (PM), such as dust, soot, or moisture, into the air. Coarse particulate matter (PM10, particles less than 10 microns in diameter) is known to cause nasal and upper respiratory tract health problems. Fine particles (PM2.5, particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter) penetrate deeper into the lungs and cause heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and bronchitis, as well as premature death from heart ailments, lung disease and cancer.
- Circulatory System: Air pollutants produced by burning fossil fuels also harm cardiovascular health. They contribute to coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the country; hospitalizations for heart attacks; and congestive heart failure, when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in the body. Fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide are all shown to have adverse effects on our cardiovascular system.
- Nervous System: More recently, air pollution has been associated with diseases of the central nervous system, including stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and neurodevelopment disorders. The fine, nano-sized PM can be translocated to the central nervous system through the nose, in the bloodstream, or even the gastrointestinal system, which can cause inflammation and neurological damage.
In 2018, electricity generation accounted for over 25% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are released during fossil fuel combustion, such as coal, oil, and natural gas - a process that generates electricity and also releases PM and contributes to air pollution, causing the health issues detailed above. By reducing our demand for electricity, we can reduce emissions and the pollution caused by electric generation. Here are some easy, no-cost tips to reduce your electric consumption at home, which will both reduce air pollution and save you money.
- Turn off lights when not in use, use natural light as much as possible, and opt for small, task lighting as opposed to ceiling lights.
- Take shorter showers, turn off the water while you brush your teeth, and use cooler water when washing clothes. Water requires a lot of energy to heat up, with either an electric or a natural gas water heater.
- Unplug electronics that are not in use, or opt for using a power strip that you can switch off.
- Turn off your window unit air conditioner and fans when you're not at home.
- Manage your thermostat so that the temperature is higher in the summer when you're not at home, which will require less energy to cool. In the winter, turn the thermostat down when you're not home, so you use less energy for heating.
- Always run full loads of laundry, and use a clothesline to hang dry your clothes whenever possible instead of using an electric dryer.