5 dangerous and invisible pollutants that affect our health

Watch out for these 5 invisible dangers

Dangerous PollutantsMost of the yellow haze that coated our big cities has reduced since the 1970s, much in part due to tougher environmental laws.

But invisible pollutants, like air pollution, still pose health risks to millions of Americans.

On any given day, these five pollutants can be found at dangerous levels in the air somewhere in the nation.

Educate yourself on how they could be affecting your health, and what you can do to "clear the air."

1. Diesel fuel

Diesel is a soup of 40 toxic air contaminants and has been linked to cancer, asthma and more than 21,000 premature deaths across the nation every year.

Many of us in the U.S. live and work near diesel hotspots such as truck depots, bus terminals, ports, construction sites and busy roads and highways. Some studies have shown that kids riding inside diesel school buses can be exposed to higher levels of unhealthy diesel soot than people riding in nearby cars.

Today, soot-free natural gas buses are replacing diesel ones in some cities, while new hybrid-electric buses and trucks are starting to enter the marketplace. At the same time, upcoming federal diesel fuel and pollution standards will dramatically cut future pollution from trucks, buses and non-road diesel vehicles like tractors and bulldozers. Unfortunately, these types of engines can last for years, so "dirty diesel" will still be around for awhile.

Keep you and your family away from anything spewing black, smelly smoke from its tailpipe. Petition your local transit authority, school district or municipal government to clean up its fleet.

2. Formaldehyde

Even though formaldehyde is used for a number of purposes, such as insulation, pesticides and disinfectants, it is a cancer-causing chemical. But 42 percent of emmersions come from the lumber industry when they create plywood. Formaldehyde has been linked to lung cancer, and may also cause leukemia and asthma attacks. Diesel emissions also contribute to formaldehyde pollution.

You can minimize formaldehyde exposure at home by making sure any wood furniture or fixtures that use particleboard are laminated or otherwise coated, choose exterior- rather than interior-grade pressed wood products for remodeling and use products containing formaldehyde in well ventilated areas.

3. Benzene

Benzene is a carcinogen that causes leukemia and a number of other illnesses. It's used in motor fuels, solvents, detergents, pesticides and many other substances. Almost the entire U.S. population is exposed to benzene in small amounts at gas stations, in diesel exhaust or from cigarette smoke, including second-hand smoke. You can avoid one significant source of benzene by stepping away from the gas pump when you get gas for your car.

4. Particulate Matter

When you inhale microscopic bits of soot -- these particles can become embedded in your lungs and hurt lung function. As many as 64,000 premature deaths occur each year from cardiopulmonary causes attributable to this kind of air pollution, according to NRDC estimates. Most of these emissions come from burning fossil fuels. You can help cut down on by conserving energy and choosing cleaner, more efficient energy sources for home heating and cooling, transportation, and appliances.

5. Ground-Level Ozone

Our ozone forms a protective layer blocking harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun; but when pollution causes excess ozone to form at the ground level, it can cause severe health problems. Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxides and other pollutants emitted by cars, trucks, buses, coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel burners react with sunlight to form the principal ingredient in smog.

Nationally, more than 150 million Americans live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of ozone smog or soot pollution. Every summer, millions of Americans are warned to stay indoors on certain high-pollution days because of smog. To protect yourself and family take those warnings seriously and keep your air clear!

Photo courtesy iStockphoto.