Air Quality & Ionizing Radiation

Air Quality & Ionizing Radiation is a topic covered in the CDC Yellow Book.

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Air Quality

Although air pollution has decreased in many parts of the world, it represents a significant and growing health problem for the residents of some cities in certain industrializing countries. Polluted air can be difficult or impossible for travelers to avoid, and the risk to otherwise healthy people who have only limited exposure is generally low. Conversely, those with preexisting heart and lung disease, children, and older adults have an increased risk of adverse health effects from even short-term exposure to air pollution.

Travelers, particularly those with underlying cardiorespiratory disease, should be familiar with the air quality at their destination. The AirNow website (http://airnow.gov) provides basic information about local air quality using the Air Quality Index (AQI) (Table 3-1). The World Air Quality Index project shows real-time air quality/air pollution data for more than 10,000 air stations in more than 80 countries around the world (https://waqi.info/) and the World Health Organization posts historical data on outdoor air pollution in urban areas at http://gamapserver.who.int/gho/interactive_charts/phe/oap_exposure/atlas.h....

Table 3-1. Air quality index

Air Quality Index Levels of Health Concern

Air Quality Index Values

Meaning

Good

0 to 50

Satisfactory air quality

Air pollution poses little or no risk

Moderate

51 to 100

Acceptable air quality

Some pollutants may represent a moderate health concern for highly sensitive people

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

101 to 150

Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects

General public not likely to be affected

Unhealthy

151 to 200

Everyone may begin to experience health effects

Sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects

Very Unhealthy

201 to 300

Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects

Hazardous

301 to 500

Health warnings of emergency conditions

Entire population is more likely to be affected

Air Quality Index Basics. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from: www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi.

Travelers should be mindful of, and limit exposures to, indoor air pollution and carbon monoxide (Table 3-2). Secondhand smoke from smoking tobacco is an important contributor to indoor air pollution. Other potential sources of indoor air pollutants include cooking or combustion sources, such as kerosene, coal, wood, or animal dung. Major sources of indoor carbon monoxide include gas ranges and ovens, unvented gas or kerosene space heaters, and coal- or wood-burning stoves. Ceremonial incense and candles are often unrecognized asthma triggers.

Table 3-2. Strategies to mitigate adverse health effects of air pollution

Environmental Source

Pollutants

Traveler Category

Mitigation Strategies

Outdoor air

Poor air quality (high levels of air pollution) or areas potentially affected by wildland fires

Travelers with preexisting asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease

Limit strenuous or prolonged outdoor activity

All travelers

Facemasks (decision to wear should be left to the traveler) 1

Indoor air

High levels of smoke (for example, from cooking and combustion sources, tobacco, incense, and candles)

Long-term travelers and expatriates

Consider purchasing indoor air filtration system

All travelers

Avoidance

1 CDC has no recommendations regarding facemask use for travelers. One small study in Beijing showed that wearing a dust respirator with valves appeared to mitigate the negative health effects of air pollution on blood pressure and heart rate. However, the respirators used in the study had better filtration than the surgical or nuisance dust masks commonly worn in some countries.

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Air Quality

Although air pollution has decreased in many parts of the world, it represents a significant and growing health problem for the residents of some cities in certain industrializing countries. Polluted air can be difficult or impossible for travelers to avoid, and the risk to otherwise healthy people who have only limited exposure is generally low. Conversely, those with preexisting heart and lung disease, children, and older adults have an increased risk of adverse health effects from even short-term exposure to air pollution.

Travelers, particularly those with underlying cardiorespiratory disease, should be familiar with the air quality at their destination. The AirNow website (http://airnow.gov) provides basic information about local air quality using the Air Quality Index (AQI) (Table 3-1). The World Air Quality Index project shows real-time air quality/air pollution data for more than 10,000 air stations in more than 80 countries around the world (https://waqi.info/) and the World Health Organization posts historical data on outdoor air pollution in urban areas at http://gamapserver.who.int/gho/interactive_charts/phe/oap_exposure/atlas.h....

Table 3-1. Air quality index

Air Quality Index Levels of Health Concern

Air Quality Index Values

Meaning

Good

0 to 50

Satisfactory air quality

Air pollution poses little or no risk

Moderate

51 to 100

Acceptable air quality

Some pollutants may represent a moderate health concern for highly sensitive people

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

101 to 150

Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects

General public not likely to be affected

Unhealthy

151 to 200

Everyone may begin to experience health effects

Sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects

Very Unhealthy

201 to 300

Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects

Hazardous

301 to 500

Health warnings of emergency conditions

Entire population is more likely to be affected

Air Quality Index Basics. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from: www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi.

Travelers should be mindful of, and limit exposures to, indoor air pollution and carbon monoxide (Table 3-2). Secondhand smoke from smoking tobacco is an important contributor to indoor air pollution. Other potential sources of indoor air pollutants include cooking or combustion sources, such as kerosene, coal, wood, or animal dung. Major sources of indoor carbon monoxide include gas ranges and ovens, unvented gas or kerosene space heaters, and coal- or wood-burning stoves. Ceremonial incense and candles are often unrecognized asthma triggers.

Table 3-2. Strategies to mitigate adverse health effects of air pollution

Environmental Source

Pollutants

Traveler Category

Mitigation Strategies

Outdoor air

Poor air quality (high levels of air pollution) or areas potentially affected by wildland fires

Travelers with preexisting asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease

Limit strenuous or prolonged outdoor activity

All travelers

Facemasks (decision to wear should be left to the traveler) 1

Indoor air

High levels of smoke (for example, from cooking and combustion sources, tobacco, incense, and candles)

Long-term travelers and expatriates

Consider purchasing indoor air filtration system

All travelers

Avoidance

1 CDC has no recommendations regarding facemask use for travelers. One small study in Beijing showed that wearing a dust respirator with valves appeared to mitigate the negative health effects of air pollution on blood pressure and heart rate. However, the respirators used in the study had better filtration than the surgical or nuisance dust masks commonly worn in some countries.

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