Air pollution has been a problem since ancient times. When anthropologists analyzed the remains of the Tyrolean Iceman ("Otzi") -- who lived 5,300 years ago -- in September of 1991, they found dust and carbon particles in his lung tissue.
While most of the dust and carbon in "Otzi's" lungs probably came from fires used for cooking and warmth, modern-day humans have to deal with far more sources of particulate matter, including cigarette smoke, vehicles exhaust, and factory emissions.
A devastating air pollution event occured December 5 to 9, 1952, when the infamous "London Fog" crept over England. Epidemiologists recorded 4,000 deaths more than normal during those four days. Most deaths were due to heart and lung disease.
Excessive exposure to particulate matter (often abbreviated "PM) has been linked to many health problems, especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a cluster of lung diseases marked by inflammation and progressive loss of lung capacity.
Source: Ling, S.H. and Van Eeeden, S.F. (2009, June 09). Particulate matter air pollution exposure: Role in the development and exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. International Journal of COPD. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699820/pdf/copd-4-233.pdf