Medical Effects: AMA on Air Pollution

Statement from the American Medical Association on Air Pollution

National Association of Physicians for the Environment (NAPE), Statement: December 1995 urging its members to help spread the word to health care Airing the Word on Pollution

The American Medical Association (AMA) passed a policy resolution. The resolution was proposed by the National Association of Physicians for the Environment (NAPE), which sponsored a conference on 18 November 1994 to examine the impact of air pollution on body organs and systems.

"It is important that people understand that air pollution can affect not only the lungs, but virtually every organ and system in the body," said John Kimball Scott, an otolaryngologist and president-elect of NAPE, who served as floor manager of the AMA resolution, in a press release announcing its passage. The report emphasizes the need for more research and public education on the consequences of air pollution. "There is no question that air pollution can be a serious public health hazard and that prevention of air pollution will lead to disease prevention," says the report.

Doctors and the Environment
"Pollution prevention is disease prevention" is the theme of the National Association of Physicians for the Environment (NAPE), founded in 1992 to help physicians and medical specialty organizations examine the impacts of environmental pollutants on health; educate physicians, patients, and the public about these impacts; and work for the reduction or elimination of
environmental pollutants. NAPE also works to involve physicians in global environmental issues such as biological diversity."" Airing the Word on Pollution

According to the conference summary, published 20 September 1995, air pollutants can enter the body through various ways--not just by inhalation. They can be absorbed through the skin or ingested by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated, possibly through bioaccumulation in the food chain. The pollutants in food and water that humans and animals are most likely to be exposed to include pesticides, PCBs, dioxin, and heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury, says the report. Such pollutants can cause a variety of adverse health effects including respiratory ailments, damage to the blood system leading to anemia or leukemia, heart disease, including hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias, and damage to the urogenital system resulting in kidney disease, bladder cancer, and reproductive problems. In addition, the skeletal system stores heavy metals such as lead that may accumulate over time. During times of bone loss such as pregnancy, lactation, or osteoporosis, the stored toxins may be released back into the body causing health problems, especially in women, newborn children, and senior citizens.

Air pollutants can also cause immune suppression or overstimulate the immune response, which can lead to allergies and immune-mediated diseases. Air pollutants have also been linked to psychological disorders and toxic damageto the nervous system and the brain, especially in developing fetuses or young children. In addition, air pollutants are thought to have detrimental effects on the reproductive and endocrine systems, but according to the conference summary, these effects require more research to be fully understood. The report points out that certain populations, including children, the elderly, and minorities, are at a higher risk of being affected by air pollutants.

Not only should people be concerned about the direct impact of air pollution on human health, says the report, but they should also be concerned about the adverse effects of air pollution on plants, animals, and ecosystem functions, which affect agriculture, fishing, wildlife, tourism, and recreation. "Human health is inseparable from the health of the natural world," says the report.

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