Air pollution poses a threat to homeless people's mental and physical health, researchers say.
They asked 138 homeless people in Salt Lake City about when and how they knew the air was polluted and how air pollution makes them feel. They also examined their health records.
More than half the people said they'd had physical reactions to air pollution (such as headaches and difficulty breathing); more than a third reported emotional stress associated with air pollution; and 89% reported seeking medical treatment for their symptoms.
The University of Utah researchers also assessed whether the length of time that people were homeless or living in a shelter affected their experiences with air pollution. They were surprised to find no significant differences in heart and lung health between sheltered and unsheltered people, or between those with chronic (more than a year) or non-chronic homelessness.
"These results indicate that sheltered and unsheltered, short-term and long-term homeless populations experience negative health outcomes that are associated with air pollution," said researcher Angelina DeMarco, a doctoral student in anthropology.
The mental health impacts of air pollution exposure warrant further study, she added in a university news release.
Homeless people, particularly those who sleep outdoors at night, are the most vulnerable and have the greatest exposure to environmental hazards, according to Daniel Mendoza, a research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
"Many individuals sleep near a road or under a bridge, which leads to exposure to high levels of traffic-related emissions. Further compounding the issue is the fact that during sleep, many people breathe through their mouth and breathe more deeply," he said in the release.
The findings were recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
For more on air pollution and health, see the World Health Organization.
SOURCE: University of Utah, news release, Nov. 13, 2020