Monday, March 17, 2008
The air we breathe
By A. Chris Gajilan
Senior Medical Producer

Could the air you breathe cause permanent damage to your health? That is one of the reasons marathon runner and world record holder Haile Gebrselassie has said he will not compete at the Beijing Olympics this summer. While the 34-year-old Ethiopian says he won't run the marathon, he has said that he hopes to run the 10,000 meter race. Gebrsealassie has exercise-induced asthma and is concerned that the longer marathon may cause permanent damage to his health.

Without a doubt, the air in Beijing is bad, but does it really have the potential to cause long-lasting damage in someone who would spend about a month on the ground? When I was there in the early 1990s, the air was thick and hazy. There was a layer of soot from the nearby coal-operated factories. Since then, Beijing has boomed economically, and cars and industries have sprung up everywhere. Today, one measure of air pollution is nearly double the safe limit levels according to Dr. Homer Boushey of the Health Effects Institute. Fine particulate matter, which is found in haze, smoke and dust, has been measured at levels close to 300 microns/cubic meter. The safe upper limit is 150 microns/cubic meter.

While Dr. Boushey says that it's unlikely that two to three weeks in Beijing will cause permanent damage to the lungs or the body, he does acknowledge that exercising in bad air exposes us to more pollutants. When we exercise heavily, we breathe mostly through the mouth, bypassing the body's first line of defense against pollution, the nose. Dr. Boushey points to one 1980s study of track meet results. Researchers found that the higher the levels of ozone on a particular competition day, the worse the winning times. He says there's a direct correlation between pollution conditions and athletic performance. In addition, there is a well-established relationship between ozone and particulate levels, and all cause mortality including heart attacks and respiratory disease. When air pollution levels are bad, there is a measurable increase in asthma attacks and emergency room visits due to respiratory problems. At greatest risk for health problems due to pollution are the elderly, children, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthmatics and those with chronic bronchitis.

Are you concerned about air pollution? How do you think it affects human health?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.
Dear A.Chris Gajilan.

Thank you for following up on this problem...
Air pollution is really big problem. Clean air is essential to human life. I believe that air pollution is a menace to our health. Also, doctors warn that exposure to the polluted air is very dangerous... Personally I think air pollution in Seoul is serious, so I don't like to live in Seoul:-(
Yellow dust comes from China shows up on the Korean peninsula every spring. Korean government officials say the seasonal phenomenon that originated from China's Gobi Desert toward Asia every year is getting worse due to Chinese rapid industrialization. It's impossible to open the window because the yellow dust wind is blowing out side. Here in 5:25 P.M. So it's stuffy in my room. My xerophthalmia becomes worse the day like today... Thanks again for sharing the story with us.
Take care always!!!
Air Pollution is a problem in many areas of the world....since ive lived in many countries (due to parents in the military)... I can remember vividly the air quality in places such as Great Britian and Tiawan as being quite different in comparison to the US.
As a child I did not have the allergies I now have as an adult having lived in the US now almost all my adult life.... Also when the air here in the metropolitan area of Washington DC gets just a touch above the levels acceptable its hard to even walk around...As you know breathing is a natural thing, however when obstructed its a horrible feeling... I can only imagine what the long term effect of bad air is doing to those living in Beijing.

Kraig Rasool
Fort Washington Md
I cannot bring any product made in China into my home due to the toxic fumes they emit. As a person who has become severely reactive and almost totally disabled due to petrochemicals (in fragrances, fabric softener, cleaning products, electroics, etc.), I am aware that any area of China is probably life-threatening to be in, from pesticides, industrial pollution, and all other sources. Have you ever seen anyone linger in the detergent isle of a supermarket in the U.S.? Most leave coughing. The only difference between our chemical-laden products and chemical weapons is labeling.

Lynn Miller
San Jose, California
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. Please note that CNN makes reasonable efforts to review all comments prior to posting and CNN may edit comments for clarity or to keep out questionable or off-topic material. All comments should be relevant to the post and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.