How Much Pollution Do You Breathe in Every Day? What Happens When You Breathe In.
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
Breathing – for most people – is so automatic that we never have to think about it. But with high levels of air pollution, maybe it’s time we understood what happens when we breathe in and how the quality of the air affects it. This blog takes you through the process, highlighting exactly why knowing what we breathe is so important.
How Many Times Do We Breathe a Day?
We breathe in and out roughly 22,000 times a day. That’s a lot. Breathing is a necessary action for our body, delivering crucial oxygen to parts of us that need it to function. If the air we breathe is unsafe, think about how much damage this could potentially cause to our health.
What Do We Breathe In?
When a breath enters your body, air from the environment passes through up to fifteen hundred miles of space in your respiratory system, ultimately entering one of the 500 million air sacs called alveoli in your lungs. These minute, clustered air sacs then allow the oxygen to permeate into the red blood cells in your bloodstream, creating oxygenated blood which is then carried around the body.
Oxygen is needed to obtain energy and allow our body to perform functions that keep us alive.
What Do We Breathe Out?
During the respiration process, carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product, which is what we breathe out. It’s our lung’s job to breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.
While our lungs can perform this exchange well, they can’t filter out the pollution in the air. There are many different types of pollution, and as we breathe in, some of them enter our body and are not breathed out again.
One of them is PM 2.5, which is 20 times smaller than anything a human can see with the naked eye and mainly comes from things such as vehicle exhausts, soot and wood fires.
Because PM 2.5 is so small, it is easily breathable and is four times more likely to stay in your lungs once inhaled. They are also small enough to seep into the blood, where particles can be carried around the body.
It can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems such as coughing, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, heart attacks, cancer, strokes and premature death.
How Much Pollution is There in the World?
The World Health Organisation reports that 99% of the world breathes unsafe air. The organisation has set a target for cities to achieve an average of 10 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic metre.
Some cities like San Francisco, where electric vehicles are hugely popular, have managed to reach this limit while others like Beijing are way over the prescribed limit, with inhabitants of the Chinese city inhaling up to 220,000,000 particles of PM 2.5 per day or 2,500 a second.
London tends to hover somewhere between 10 and 20 micrograms per cubic metre, which roughly works out to 44,000,000 particles per day or 509 particles per second. A lot better than Beijing but, regardless, PM 2.5 are not the sort of particles that we want in our body.
How Much Pollution Do We Have To Breathe In for It To Affect Us?
A microgram is equal to one millionth of a gram. To put this into perspective: let’s say you are inhaling roughly 124.4 micrograms of PM 2.5 per day, it would take around 100 days for the amount of PM 2.5 you’ve inhaled to equal the size of a grain of rice.
Obviously, if you lived in a more polluted city than London, those grains of rice would add up faster. Breathing air into the lungs in Beijing would earn you a whole grain in just three w