Air pollution may increase the risk of chronic kidney disease, which can lead to the failure of the organ, a study has warned. India and China are among the countries with the highest degree of air pollution. With the alarming rise in pollution in most cities worldwide, the quality of air is increasingly becoming unsafe for humans. Air pollution can cause or worsen pre-existing lung diseases such as asthma, obstructive airway disease, and is also associated with an increased risk of stroke, cancer and heart disease. However, a recent study conducted by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs (VA) St. Louis Health Care System seems to suggest that air pollution could also cause kidney damage with renal failure.

In this observational study, nearly 2.5 million populations were closely monitored for over 8 years. The findings of the study were published recently in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Following analysis of data, the team has concluded that nearly 45,000 newly diagnosed cases of kidney disease and about 2,400 new cases of kidney failure annually can be attributed to air pollution exceeding the prescribed safety limit of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

How Does Air Quality Affect Kidney Health?

Fine particulate matter in the atmosphere is able to pass through the lung-blood barrier into the bloodstream and are consequently subject to filtration by the kidneys.

The kidneys filter the blood containing invisible dust particles, soot, smoke, liquid droplets and dirt from the blood to be excreted in the urine. However, prolonged exposure to such pollutants and harmful chemicals can cause damage to kidneys resulting in renal failure.

According to Al-Aly, "Human kidneys filter as much as 45 gallons of blood a day. They may be especially susceptible to the harmful effects of particulate matter in the blood."

Fine particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter, referred to as PM2.5 have been found to be associated with kidney damage in mice.

"The higher the levels of air pollution, the worse it is for the kidneys," said Al-Aly, who is also the VA's director of clinical epidemiology in St. Louis. "However, no level is completely safe. Even at relatively low levels, there was a relationship between particulate matter concentrations below the EPA thresholds and kidney disease."

As stated earlier, these are particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter and more likely to pass via the lungs into the bloodstream and cause serious damage.

Outdoor sources of particulate matter:

  • Vehicular exhaust
  • Construction equipment
  • Burning of wood, coal and oil
  • Forest fires
  • Power plants

Indoor sources of particulate matter:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Cooking
  • Burning oil lamps, candles
  • Kerosene heaters
  • Health and General Tips to Reduce Air Pollution

It is possible to reduce our exposure to fine particulate matter even if not totally prevented by the following measures:

  • Avoid smoking and exposure to passive smoke
  • Convert garden waste to compost for plants instead of burning it
  • Avoid or reduce the usage of wood stoves and fireplaces
  • Use petrol instead of diesel as emission is lesser; replace old diesel engines with new ones periodically to reduce emissions
  • People at risk should avoid outdoor pollution by staying indoors
  • Avoid strenuous exercise in areas where fine particulate matter is high
  • Persons at risk should wear face mask when going outdoors

In conclusion, although it is essential for governments across the world to crack the whip and enforce tough measures to reduce the alarming levels of air pollution, each one of us can contribute by making small changes in our lifestyle to make air quality safer and better for humanity.


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