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The surroundings in which people live affect their health. The air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and our ability to enjoy the outdoors are all important to quality of life. Air and water quality, public safety, the houses in which people live, and the availability of parks and green space all contribute to an individual's health status.

People living near industrial sites may have to deal with pollution in the air, water or ground that can lead to health problems. Urban residents may have limited access to parks and recreational sites. And still others may live in neighborhoods that are not as safe as more affluent areas, limiting opportunities for exercise.

According to the American Heart Association,1 exposure to pollution contributes to heart disease and stroke. This may be especially true for elderly patients and people who have other complicating factors such as diabetes or underlying lung disease. The most hazardous types of pollution include carbon monoxide, nitrates, sulfur dioxide, ozone, lead, secondhand tobacco smoke and other particles in the air.

In urban areas, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are major pollutants that contained in automobile emissions. Additionally, exposure to air pollution and its effects are more frequent among low-income individuals and certain racial and ethnic minorities.2

Indoor air quality must also be considered when talking about air pollution and its effect on health. Most people consider air pollution in terms of the outside environment. However, secondhand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke, is the single largest contributor to indoor air pollution when a smoker is present. Smoking is more common among less-educated and low-income populations,3 increasing the chances that family members are more exposed to secondhand smoke as well.

Legal and policy changes are helping to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. Maryland and Baltimore city  recently enacted laws that prohibit indoor smoking in nearly all buildings statewide.

Environmental Resources

Environmental Protection Agency

Maryland Environmental Services

Maryland Department of the Environment

Baltimore City General Services Department

Baltimore City Parks and Recreation Department

Parks and People Foundation


1American Heart Association, 2010.

2American Lung Association, 2010.

3American Heart Association, Rapid Access Journal Report, Sep. 7, 2010.

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