Get State info

The Air Pollution and Bone Development Connection That Members Should Understand

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg | May 11, 2020

Air pollution has been connected to lung cancer, stroke and heart disease — that's already a significant list on its own, but research is also raising evidence for a link between air pollution and bone development.

One study on air pollution and bone development found that ambient air pollution — pollutants emitted by industries, households, cars and trucks — was associated with poorer bone health, especially in people over age 40. Another pair of studies suggest that poor air quality is a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fractures, especially in low-income communities.

Workers in certain industries are especially vulnerable to air pollutant exposure, including those who work in building trades, manufacturing and transportation. Figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that 9 out of 10 people inhale air containing high levels of pollutants, with around 8 million people worldwide dying each year from conditions related to outdoor and household air pollution. 

Outdoor workers, like those who work in construction, urban transport or in delivery jobs, are likely to suffer from ambient air pollution, often from cars, factories and waste sites. Manufacturing or factory workers are susceptible to air polluted by carcinogens, fibers, pathogens, smokes, fumes and dusts. 

Members who protect their bones are also working to guard the health of their organs and anchor muscles. When bones deteriorate, workers are susceptible to back pain, loss of height and fractures, some of which can even result in hospitalization. One study showed that 10.3% of adults 50 years and older in the U.S., more than 10 million people, have osteoporosis.

5 Ways to Promote Bone Health

As a union leader, you can promote members' bone health through education. Here's how members can make smart choices to fortify their bone health.


  •  Limit exposure. Whenever possible, encourage members to take breaks to limit their exposure to air pollutants. If indoor exposure is an issue, help educate employers about the importance of clean air and the risks associated with pollutants. 
  • Stick to a healthy diet. To maintain healthy bones, it's important to eat vegetables, protein-rich meals and high-calcium foods like dairy products or leafy greens. Calcium and vitamin D — which the body needs to absorb calcium — are essential for healthy bones, especially in the first two decades of life, according to Harvard Medical School. A number of foods, such as orange juice, are calcium-fortified, and oily fish like salmon can be a good source of vitamin D. Adults ages 19 to 50 should aim to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 600 IUs of vitamin D per day. Members who can't get enough of the minerals in their diet should talk to their doctor about supplements.
  • Stay active. Strength training and weight-bearing exercises like dancing, walking, jogging and climbing stairs can help keep bones strong. Encourage members to make time for exercise, even if it's only a little each day. Parking a car farther from a store entrance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator may be small changes, but they add up over time.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Encourage members not to smoke and to limit their alcohol consumption to just one or two drinks per day. Both smoking and drinking can decrease bone mass.
  • Regularly consult a physician. Some medical conditions, such as celiac disease, procedures like weight loss surgery and a variety of medicines can increase the odds of developing osteoporosis. Encourage members to speak with their doctor during regular checkups about their risk of developing osteoporosis. A doctor might suggest a bone density test, and prescribe medications to slow bone loss.

Members are only able to protect their health when they have access to the right health tools and information. Educating your membership about the risks of air pollution for bone development can help ensure they stay happy, productive and healthy on the job.


With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday — Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.