What Is Smog and Particle Pollution?

Smog is a mixture of things. It combines microscopic solid and liquid particles in the air with sunlight and many other components like acids, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, metals, soil, and dust particles. Particle pollution can affect the quality of both outdoor and indoor air and can be very harmful to human health.

Outdoor smog can be caused by emissions from power plants, vehicle exhaust, forest fires, and other industrial sources where hazardous materials are being broken down or oxidized. Indoor pollution occurs primarily when contaminated buildings are poorly ventilated and toxins get trapped inside, making them easier to inhale or ingest by workers or residents nearby. Bigger smog particles can irritate the eyes, nose, or throat, but smaller materials can easily be inhaled or ingested, making their way into the lungs, bloodstream, or other parts of the body and potentially causing diseases to develop.

The Lung Cancer Connection

Lung cancer is the most common disease caused by vulnerability to smog and particle pollution because the toxins are primarily inhaled. When the tiny, poisonous particles make their way into the lungs, they become wedged in the tissue, eventually irritating the area enough to form malignant tumors. There’s a long latency period (the time for the illness to grow and cause visible symptoms) for lung cancer or related diseases that can take anywhere from 20 or more years after the initial exposure to develop.

This is an icon representing Uranium - one of many harmful air pollutants (HAPs).

Who It Affects

Certain places are more likely to encounter higher levels of particle pollution than others. People are most commonly exposed to smog in or around the workplace, otherwise known as occupational exposure. Occupational exposure happens when employees come in contact with some form of hazardous material at a job site.

Firefighters, construction workers, first responders, and other outdoor occupations are the most at risk for harmful levels of vulnerability to harmful air pollutants (HAPs). When someone is around HAPs for too long, they may eventually develop lung cancer or pleural mesothelioma among other diseases.

This is an icon representing a civilian wearing a mask to avoid smog exposure.

Tips for Protecting Yourself From Particle Pollution and Other Hazardous Chemicals

There are a number of precautions you could take to prevent lung cancer and reduce the chances of vulnerability to smog and other toxins in the workplace. Some steps an employee can take include, to:

  • Wear adequate face, hand, and body coverings while working and to
  • Properly clean coverings and equipment after use
  • Increase workspace ventilation
  • Meet label precautions
  • Store open containers of unused paints or other toxic materials within a sealed area so that their emissions do not seep into the environment, creating smog
  • Reduce pesticide use by utilizing less toxic materials and more efficient techniques
  • Obey disposal guidelines and throw away unused or little-used containers properly
  • Pack materials away from children, pets, or untrained individuals
  • Never mix products unless directed

Your employer should train you and provide standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the efficient and safe handling of hazardous products that could seep into the air and environment, causing particle pollution and subsequent exposure. If there’s no safe way to handle the material, it’s your employer’s legal responsibility to adequately remove the toxin before allowing their employees to work there.

Legal Rights and Occupational Exposure

The employee has rights. Laws and regulations are put in place by government organizations like the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the World Health Organization, and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect workers from negligent exposure to smog and other harmful air pollutants.

The employer has responsibilities with legal repercussions if not fulfilled up to OSHA standards and an employee is injured because of it. Some of them are to:

  • Provide a workplace free from serious and recognized hazards
  • Ensure workers have and utilize safe tools and equipment
  • Use labels and signs to warn employees of hazards
  • Establish and update standard operating procedures so that employees understand and follow safety and health requirements
  • Provide safety training in a language and vocabulary that employees can comprehend

If you’ve developed lung cancer or other illness due to occupational exposure to smog, particle pollution, or other harmful air pollutants, your employer could be held legally responsible for negligence.

This is an icon representing next steps for a lung cancer case settlement.

Next Steps

If you’re diagnosed with lung cancer or other illness from negligent exposure to harmful materials like smog at work, you may have cause for legal action against your employer. Taking action could ensure you receive financial compensation for your injuries. Settlement money could be used to help support your family and pay for medical treatments if you get sick and can’t continue working.