It’s almost terrifying that we can hear the word pollution attached to almost everything that makes our environment. It means that toxins, poisons, and other contaminants changed or violated the most important segments of our life – our soil, our air, or water that our life depends on. Today, we are going to talk about the fact that a lot of dangerous chemicals and gases are being released in our atmosphere, and what does that mean for us, and for plants and animals that are cohabitating this planet too.
Air pollution can be visible and invisible, and it can be a consequence of natural events and shifts or a result of human impact. But the thing is, either way, it affects our lives significantly, and in so many ways, that’s simply unacceptable to continue with this ignorance and indifference we show when this topic pops up. So here are all the facts you need to know in order to take this a bit more seriously and do something about it.
Types of Pollutants
The most common division of pollution types is the one that says there are primarily air pollutants and secondary pollutants. Classified in the first group are pollutants that are a direct result of some process. The perfect example would be sulfur-dioxide that’s emitted from many factories. Secondary pollutants are those that were created by reactions and intermingling of primary pollutants. If you need an example, here is one – smog originated by the interactions of primary pollutants.
What Causes Air Pollution?
There can be many things causing the contamination of the air we breathe. Pollution can be a consequence of natural phenomena like seasonal change, temperature change, natural disasters, etc., and we cannot do anything about them. But the fact the quality of our air is changing and degrading is mostly our fault. It happens because we are retackles and unaware of how much damage our actions, or the absence of them, can cause.
You should know that our atmosphere is created by 21 percent of oxygen gas, 78 percent of nitrogen gas, and some other trace gases like carbon dioxide and argon. It’s necessary that this balance remains the same in order to keep the life of all species here on Earth. The entrance of different air pollutants can have extensive and quite damaging effects on all of us, and they can have many different forms – carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide radioactive decay, methane…
There is no doubt that the most harmful contribution to air pollution is the one made by a human. We are mostly talking about our everyday choices, like relying on fossil fuel and a lifestyle that demands the presence of heavy industry. But also, we can add modern agriculture, accumulation of waste, and some other man-made processes on the list.
According to the world’s experts, agriculture is responsible for 24 percent of annual emissions. But there is approximately another 20 percent of air pollutants that come from agricultural activities, like CO2, that are being removed from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in biomass. Ammonia, for example, is one of the most common byproducts of agriculture, and it represents extremely hazardous gas that’s being released in our atmosphere. Also, the usage of pesticides, fertilizers, and insecticides can be quite dangerous since they emit harmful chemicals into the air and water. And there is a massive problem of deforestation, that’s based on the removal of trees, which have the ability to sequester carbon and clean the air.
One of the main air pollutants is sulfur dioxide that is emitted during the process of fossil fuel usage, mostly petroleum and coal, but also other factory combustibles. Besides that, there is pollution created by vehicles like cars, trucks, trains, airplanes, etc. That’s why the world’s experts are appealing to replace them with some other, more environment-friendly options. The overuse of them is what is dangerous, because of the harmful gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides they are constantly emitting. The statistics show that industry accounts for 21 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, transportation is responsible for 14 percent, and electricity and heat give us another 25 percent.
Our garbage is being deposited in landfills, and it is a well-known fact that they generate methane, which is potentially very dangerous. The fact that the number of people in urban areas is constantly growing means that we have more and more locations turned into landfills, so methane is practically all around us. Because of that, and all other pollution we release into the air, we have consequences in the form of smog, acid rain, global warming, and serious health problems we are exposed to. Scientists believe the Earth has several self-regulating mechanisms that are trying to maintain the balance of its ecosystem, but they are clearly not enough to fight with this amount of pollution.
Exhaust from Industrial Plants and Factories
Another fact that’s not surprising is that industrial facilities are constantly releasing large amounts of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, which is harmful enough per se, but there are also hydrocarbons, other chemicals, and organic compounds that are destroying the quality of the air we breathe. The thing that is the most concerning is the fact that we have manufacturing industries almost on every corner, all around the world. So there is no way of avoiding this problem, no matter where you live on this planet.
Indoor Air Pollution (Household Activities)
This is probably something we never think about, but we are certainly very much responsible for air pollution as individuals because we use many chemicals that are causing toxin release into the atmosphere. We are talking about household cleaning products in the first place, which we all tend to overuse and painting supplies. If you ever wondered what that unbearable smell your walls are emitting after the painting process is, that’s toxic evaporation that’s been released into the air. And there is one more thing, regarding indoor pollution – SPM (Suspended particulate matter). Those are little particles in the air like dust and combustion that are affecting the quality of air.
When it comes to these natural causes of air pollution, you need to know it is not much you can do about it. The contamination of the atmosphere is a result of naturally-occurring phenomena, and since nature has different cycles, these things will, at some point, be more common than in others.
There are a lot of volcanoes all around the world that are, thankfully, in the sleeping phase. But if one of them erupts, and that is a legitimate thing that can happen, there will be a significant amount of pollutants catapulted in our atmosphere. The volcanic explosion is one of the major natural pollutants. It produces huge amounts of chlorine, sulfuric, and ash, which are then spread with the wind in very distant areas. And another terrifying fact is that compounds like ash from volcanoes and sulfur dioxide have the ability to reflect solar radiation.
Wildfires and Dust
It sounds quite unbelievable, but wind and dust can create quite a dangerous situation that can affect people’s health. If it happens that in a large open area with very little vegetation, the strong wind starts blowing, it will pick up all those small particles and create a dust storm. Dust particles, in that case, will have a natural warming effect, which is very dangerous for all living creatures. And when we talk about wildfires, they usually happen during dry periods in wooded areas. The result of that, besides the destruction of forests and death of live creatures, is the smoke and carbon monoxide that will be released into the air and increase carbon levels in the atmosphere. That will allow for greater warming by causing a greenhouse effect.
Animal and Vegetation
As a result of animals eating and digesting that food, we have a situation where our air is being naturally polluted by methane. The most responsible for that is cattle. On the other hand, we have to be aware that certain vegetation, like oak, poplar, black gum, and willow trees, emits tremendous amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during warm days. VOCs will then react with primary anthropogenic pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other carbon compounds. As a result, we will have low-lying hazes that are full of ozone.
Dangerous Effects of Air pollution
The first image, when someone mentions air pollution, is a picture of smoke pouring out of the factory chimneys. Yes, they do pollute the air we breathe, but it’s not just them, and it’s not only that smoke we notice with our eyes or our noses that can pollute our environment. It’s quite terrifying knowing something you cannot see can be extremely dangerous and harmful for us. But the fact is, we are exposed to that almost every single day. After we established what the things that cause air pollution are, let’s talk about all those harmful effects this phenomenon can and will cause. We can divide them on effects that have consequences on our planet and atmosphere, and those that affect human beings, animals, and other forms of wild lives.
Global warming is gradual and long-term incensement of the temperature of the atmosphere here on Earth. It is caused by the greenhouse effect and based on the impact of numerous harmful and dangerous pollutants. Global warming is the result of climate change. Since the temperature is rising, the icebergs and ice caps are continuously melting, which significantly increases the sea level, causes extreme weather, and regional changes in precipitation. It is proved that from the mid-20s, we, humans, are the greatest factor that contributed to global warming.
There is no difference between animals and us in this matter. Just like the pollution of air affects us, it affects all those different species that were forced to change their habits and place they live in, in order to survive. These shifts can negatively affect the ecosystem and lead to a situation where certain species can become endangered. Another problem is the fact that those toxic chemicals and pollutants are being deposited over the surface of the water, which means marine life animals can be in the problem too.
When fossil fuels are burning, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides are being released into the sky. That causes air pollution and leads to what we tend to call acid rain because water that is high in the atmosphere meets with these chemicals and turns into an acid compound in nature. So acid rain is a form of precipitation with elevated levels of acids. It can be very dangerous to people, animals, and even crops. From the 1970s, some governments are making efforts to reduce releases of those harmful compounds in order to prevent acid rain from falling.
Respiratory and Heart Issues
We may not be aware of that, but 65 percent of deaths in Asia is caused by air pollution, and more than 50 000 people in America die each year because of the same problem. The changes harmful chemicals make in our atmosphere can lead to serious heart and respiratory problems. There is also a higher risk of getting some kind of cancer. In those areas that are truly troubled by this huge number of children have asthma and pneumonia. Polluted air can irritate your eyes, throat, lungs, and nose, it can affect your arteries and lead to a heart attack.
If the high amount of nitrogen that is present in some type of pollutants gets to the sea’s surface, it can develop and transform into algae. This is called eutrophication, and it is a condition that can potentially be very dangerous to the plants, fish, and other animal species that live above the water surface. If you see green algae “carpet” on top of the lake or a pond, know that it is because of this chemical. Eutrophication usually happens if there is an oversupply of nutrients like phosphorus or nitrogen.
Depletion of the ozone layer
The ozone layer is protecting us from harmful ultraviolet rays, but it is constantly depleting because of the presence of hydrochlorofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons in the air. The fact that it is becoming thinner and thinner is very troublesome since UV rays can harm our skin, our eyes, and our health overall. Also, they are devastating for the crops. Because of all that, scientists are continually looking for ways of preventing this from happening.
Solutions For Air Pollution
After getting to know all this, you must have immediately started thinking about all the things you personally, and we as a society can do to prevent air pollution from happening, and the ways we can repair the damages of our own actions. In order to do that, it is crucial to truly understand what led to where we are, what did we do wrong, and what are the reactions that were caused with all that. Regarding these solutions for air pollution, there are things that will sound familiar, but also those that are not so obvious but are equally important.
This is one of the things that’s all up to you. It’s a matter of lifestyle, so you need to change the way you think to change your habits. If we are talking about non-renewable energy most people still find as the only acceptable source, a tremendous amount of fossil fuels are being burnt in order to produce electricity. We cannot function properly without it, that’s for sure, but we can reduce its consumption significantly if we turn off the lights when we are not in the room, or if we switch off the fan when we get out of the house.
Minimal Use of Fossil Fuel Powered Cars
There are so many options that are more acceptable and kind toward our environment and, at the same time, more healthy for you. It is necessary to minimize the usage of traditional cars powered by fuel and to turn to some alternatives. You can practice carpooling with your friends and colleagues, make public transportation your main ride, turn to bicycle or hybrid car, etc. It is a well-known fact that vehicles are the biggest contributors to air pollution, and since it’s all up to us, it is time we change that.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
In order to lower the level of air pollution, we have to reduce the amount of garbage we dispose of. We already explained how methane from landfills badly affects our environment and the air we breathe, so we need to find a way to put a stop to that. One of the ways is to reuse things we already have, instead of throwing them away. For example, you can use your jam jars as a pencil holder on your desk, or plastic boxes for storing some items. Or, you can recycle and reduce waste, which will help in making your carbon footprint smaller. All that together is called waste management, and it’s very effective.
Use Energy Efficient Devices
If you use energy-efficient devices, you will minimize the level of exploitation of natural resources, which is crucial to reducing air pollution. All devices we are using in our household are based on electricity usage, and in the text above, we said how important it is for us to conserve energy. So you have to make some changes again. You can use CFL light instead of traditional bulbs and appliances that can operate under a lower energy setting. This is exactly that thing that looks small for you, but it is actually huge for all mankind.
Emphasis on Clean Energy Resources
The best way to lower the usage of fossil fuel-based electricity is to make your own with the help of renewable clean energy such as solar, wind, or geothermal. Governments all around the world are making efforts to support its population to transit to one of these power sources in order to protect our environment from harmful effects. So think about placing a few solar panels on top of your roof. They will be able to provide enough power to light up your backyard, your house, to heat your water, your entire house, etc.
We know that this seems a lot to take in, but there is no time left for us to ignore the problem that affects us all, and that will, for sure, affect our children. It is not hopeless, there are things we can do, ways we can contribute in order to make sure we are breathing fresh and healthy air. There are no words to describe how important this subject is. It’s simple – we need air to live. So let’s be united, smart, and responsible, let’s just make some changes today and see where they lead us tomorrow.