AIR POLLUTION – CAUSES, EFFECTS, AND HOW TO REDUCE IT
Pollution is now a very common term. We hear about it and its various types everywhere we go. Air pollution is one such type that means air contamination irrespective of outside or indoors. A biological, physical, or chemical alteration to air can be called air pollution. It mostly happens when harmful gases, smoke, or dust enters into the atmosphere making it hard for living organisms that depend on air. The sustainability of all living things is due to a blend of gases that jointly form the atmosphere. Therefore, any imbalance caused by increase or decrease of these gases can be very harmful for survival.
Due to increased air pollution, the ozone layer, considered important for the existence of the ecosystems, has been depleting day by day. Increased imbalance of gases has led to a situation – global warming, which is known to be the biggest threat and challenge that we have to overcome if we are to survive.
Since you already have an idea about what air pollution is, let us have a look at its causes, effects, and the best way to prevent it.
Types of Pollutants
Air pollutants can be divided into various categories. They include:
Primary Air Pollutants
These are pollutants that result directly from a certain process. An example could be sulfur-dioxide emitted from factories.
These are caused by inter-mingling and reactions of primary pollutants. An example is smog, which is created by interactions of various primary pollutants.
Causes of Air Pollution
Air pollution has numerous causes. Some of them include:
- Burning of Fossil Fuels
One major cause of air pollution is sulfur dioxide emitted from combustion of fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and other factory combustibles. Pollution can also be caused by moving vehicles like cars, trains, trucks, jeeps, and airplanes can also cause large amounts of pollution. Although we rely on these machines, their overuse is killing our environment slowly. Another major pollutant is carbon monoxide emitted after incomplete or improper combustion from vehicles. Moreover, nitrogen oxides are other gases that have the potential of causing air pollution.
- Agricultural Activities
A common product from agricultural related activities is ammonia. This is one of the most hazardous gases. When it gets to the atmosphere, this gas can cause a lot of harm to humans and other living organisms. The use of pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers in agricultural activities is really growing. These products emit a lot of chemicals into the air, leading to massive air pollution.
- Exhaust From Factories and Industries
With industrialization, numerous processing and manufacturing industries have been set up. These industries release huge amounts of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, organic compounds, and other chemicals into the atmosphere. This, therefore, depletes the quality of air around us. No area hasn’t been affected by this as manufacturing industries can be found almost everywhere. Petroleum refineries also emit hydrocarbons and other chemicals, leading to air pollution.
- Mining Operations
Mining involves extracting minerals from underneath the earth using large equipment. During the process, a lot of chemicals and dust are emitted to the air causing massive air pollution. This is the main reason why mine workers and residents nearby have occasionally been reported with deteriorating health conditions.
- Suspended Particulate Matter
These are particles that afloat in the air and normally caused by dust and combustion. Human sources for suspended particulate matter include coal industrial units, and burning fuels in agriculture, vehicles, construction, and unpaved roads.
Indoor Air Pollution
It is not only industrial activities that are responsible for releasing harmful chemicals to the atmosphere, activities that we do at home also have the potential of causing this. Pest killers or fertilizers are some of the major reasons for air pollution at home. In addition, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in products such as paints can also lead to health issues. Therefore, care should be taken when using such home products.
Other Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
- Burning fuels in the kitchen.
- Cigarette smoke.
You can read more about indoor air quality here.
Effects of Air Pollution
Air pollution leads to numerous negative results. They include:
- Respiratory and Heart Problems
Effects of air pollution are quite alarming, to say the least. Air pollution is known to cause heart and respiratory conditions. It also causes cancer, among other risks to the body. Millions of people have lost their lives due to direct or indirect exposure to polluted air.
- Global Warming
Another direct effect of air pollution is global warming. Emissions released into the air from industries or motor vehicles cause damage to the ozone layer leading to global warming. In turn, global warming causes increased temperatures across the globe. This leads to a rise in sea levels and melting of ice and icebergs in the cooler regions and also loss and displacement of habitat. If globing warming is not handled soon, then there could be more dangers yet to be seen.
- Acid Rain
Harmful gases such as sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides are released into the air after burning of fossil fuels. When it rains, water combines with these components, forming acidic water. When this acidic rain falls down, it could cause damage to animals, crops, and humans.
This is a situation where the amount of nitrogen in pollutants develops on the surface of the sea turning itself into algae. These pollutants could affect plants, fish, and animal species. The presence of this chemical causes the green colored algae that we see on lakes and ponds.
- Affect on Wildlife
Like humans, animals are also faced with devastating effects of air pollution. Air pollution can force wildlife to move from its natural habitat to other places. The toxic components also deposit in sea water, affecting sea animals too.
- Depletion of Ozone Layer
The ozone is located in the earth’s stratosphere. It is responsible for protecting us from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. Air pollution causes buildup of chemicals such as hydro chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. These lead to depletion of the earth’s ozone layer. When the ozone becomes thinner, harmful rays from the sun will be able to penetrate through. These harmful rays have the potential of causing eye and skin related medical conditions. These UV rays have the potential of affecting crops exposed to them.
Solutions for Air Pollution
Various measures have been proposed or undertaken to curb the effects of air pollution. Solving air pollution is something that requires joint effort and it needs incorporation of various methods by different regions in the world. Air pollution solutions have been focused on establishing a mix of regulations and policies, technological solutions, and encouraging behavioral change. Let us have a look at some of these solutions.
- Cleaning Smokestacks and Exhaust Pipes
The major sources of air pollution include vehicles, plants, and factories. These frequently release fumes and gaseous waste into the air. In manufacturing industries, and power plants, electrostatic smoke precipitants can be used to trap dust and soot from gaseous waste emitted from these industries.
Scrubbing is another solution for sulfur oxide emissions. This process removes sulfur oxide leaving the smokestacks. Moreover, power plans can be retrofitted with technologies to help trap carbon dioxide. Also, vehicles can be fitted with catalytic converters on the exhaust pipes to reduce the amount of gas emissions. Moreover, improvements have been done to produce gasoline that combusts well and also manufacture more energy efficient cars have been made. This has helped reduce motor vehicles emissions.
- Laws and Regulations
National and international laws and regulations have been introduced to help control air pollution. Regulations and legislation offers a fantastic way to tackle the problem of air pollution. Many countries and cities that were earlier polluted have been able to attain clean air through the institutionalization of anti-pollution laws.
International organizations and corporations have like the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), and environmental programs have also come up with clean air directives and acts to help minimize air pollution. Examples include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Air Acts. Despite this, more governing actions need to be undertaken to curb emissions. Quality air controls standards and protocols like the installation of air pollution control devices have to be introduced to help reduce the adverse effects of air pollution.
- Use of Green or Renewable Sources of Energy
Coal and fossil fuels are the major contributors to air pollution. Hence, opting for other sources of energy to produce power offers a better solution to air pollution. Alternative sources of energy include: hydro-power, geothermal energy, wind energy, and solar energy. If individuals can appreciate these sources of energy, then air pollution can be reduced immensely.
Fuel cells, natural gas, and batteries are other substitutes to fossil fuels that can offer cleaner energy sources. However, it is still essential to evaluate some of these alternative sources of energy as some of them have their own environmental and economic costs. More importantly, investing in sustainable and renewable sources of energy reduce pollution and at the same time, protects our future.
Individual Level Prevention Ways
There are numerous methods that can be used at the individual level to help prevent air pollution. At first, people aware of the causes and effects of air pollution can sensitize their family, colleagues, and friends to start conserving the environment. You can also start campaigns to advise people to use the train or the bus when moving from one place to another. For shorter distances, they can walk or ride a bike. This will ensure lesser vehicles on the roads, hence lower emissions.
By using energy wisely and efficiently, people can help to conserve it, meaning less air pollution. The idea here is that a lot of fossil fuels are burnt to produce energy needed for heating, lighting, and cooking. Therefore, saving energy cuts downs on air pollution. Another method is to reuse some of these utilities like papers, bottles, and plastic bags as their production leads to massive pollution.
Technological advancements and anti-pollution laws are not enough to curb air pollution. The number one factor to consider is to create awareness as it makes people realize and understand sources and effects of air pollution. From this point, it is easier for people to take necessary collective and personal initiatives to minimize air pollution. Raising awareness through advocacy and campaigns offer the best solution to this air pollution problem.
How to Deal With Indoor Air Pollution
Most of the methods stated above talk about reducing outdoor air pollution. But, what are the methods we can use to reduce air pollution indoors? Have a look at some strategies you can incorporate:
Allergens, chemicals, and dust can accumulate in your house for quite a long time. The best way to deal with these pollutants is to clean your house on a regular basis. You can consider using a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter or a mop to do this. Clean your house thoroughly, more than three times a week, to completely deal with air pollution in your house.
Make your House a No-Smoking Zone
One major cause of indoor air pollution is cigarette smoke. This smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals. According to studies, second-hand smoke increases a child’s risk of developing respiratory infections, cancer, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome. For the direct smoker, it causes breathing problems, stroke, heart attacks, and cancer. Looking at these effects, it is very important to ensure that your home is free of cigarette smoke.
Test for Radon
Whether you live in a new or old home, there is a high potential that your home could have a radon mitigation problem. Radon is an odorless and colorless gas that significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer; therefore, you need to test your house for radon to make sure that you and your family are safe. You can get a professional to do this for you here.
Air pollution can be caused by natural or human means. Natural causes include harmful gases like radon. On the other hand, human causes involve activities like industrialization which emit gases into the atmosphere. All these causes have adverse effects on humans, other living organisms, and the environment. Therefore, there are necessary measures that need to be taken to curb this problem.