Air Pollution & Asthma

A complex interstate road network surrounded by suburban sprawl of trees and buildings

The Issue 

Every day, many of us are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution. As we play in parks, walk to bus stops and simply go about our day, we may be inhaling invisible gases and particulate matter (particles 10-20 times smaller than the width of a human hair) able to travel deep into our lungs and bloodstream where they can cause a number of illnesses, including asthma, lung cancer and strokes. Often these gases and particles are caused by the burning of fossil fuels, for example to run our cars and factories, or else as a result of wildfires and desert storms, sometimes traveling far and wide on the wind to neighboring towns, countries and even other continents. In the U.S. alone, exposure to particulate matter causes 90,000 deaths per year.

CHI Research & Action 

CHI researchers have long studied the effects of air pollution and climate change on the global burden of disease, mortality and seasonal allergies. Focused on quantifying premature deaths as a result of human-caused air pollution, for example, we have found that ozone is associated with 700,000-1 million respiratory deaths annually, and nitrogen dioxide--a common pollutant found in traffic-related pollution--causes 4 million new pediatric asthma cases globally each year. Other CHI research is looking at how the warming climate is extending the environmental allergy season and intensifying seasonal allergies, as well as how particulate matter from the burning of fossil fuels impacts respiratory and cardiac health.

Our Experts

Susan Anenberg
Director, Climate & Health Institute
Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and of Global Health
GW Milken Institute School of Public Health

Anjeni Keswani
Assistant Professor of Medicine
GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences