Air Pollution: Causes, Effects and Solutions

You must have heard various news regarding the increasing levels of smog and decreased visibility.

Despite this, air pollution has been around for a long time, only getting worse. Breathing in this polluted air can have many negative health consequences for us. It can also affect the ozone layer and have global impacts.

This is why it is a good idea to keep yourself informed about air pollution, its causes, effects, and possible solutions.

Let’s get right into it!

What is Air Pollution?

As the name suggests, air pollution is characterized by the presence of unwanted and harmful particles or gases in the air supply. Breathing in this air can lead to a multitude of health complications. The most common pollutants are smoke, soot, pollen, methane, and carbon dioxide.

But this is not the only thing we should be worried about.

Poor air quality can harm all lifeforms, including both plants and animals. The bigger culprit for this air pollution is human interference. However, there are some natural processes that also, add to this.

Main Contaminants in Air that Causes Pollution

According to EPA, the most common culprits of air pollution are nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. The most dangerous contaminants for the United States are ground-level ozone and airborne particles. Carbon monoxide is another common pollutant.

Ground-level ozone does not pollute the air directly. It is formed by a chemical reaction between existing volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). This reaction takes place in the presence of sunlight.

The airborne particles can be categorized in two ways. The first type has impurities with a diameter of fewer than 10 micrometers and is generally inhalable. It includes dust and mold.

The second type is the one with organic compounds, combustion particles, and metals. They have a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less.

Causes of Air Pollution

Now we know what air pollution is and the contaminants present in the polluted air. But where exactly does this pollution come from? What causes air pollution? The following are some of the leading causes of air pollution.

Industrial Exhaust

Factories are responsible for releasing a massive amount of chemicals and gases in the atmosphere. This pollution can include carbon monoxide, organic wastes, chemicals, and hydrocarbons. When these gases are released without going through proper filtering, they can add to air pollution.

Furthermore, the multitude of coal and oil-powered plants release a considerable amount of toxic gases. These toxic gases can contribute to nearly 50% of the mercury, 62% of the arsenic, 60% of sulfur dioxide, and 13% of the nitrogen oxide present in our air.

Household Pollution

Many household cleaning products can emit harmful chemicals into the air. Similarly, some painting supplies can also be responsible for adding to the toxic air around you. Some chemicals make it evident by emitting a strong smell while others can be wholly odor-less but still add to the overall pollution.

Other than this, dust and combustion can also be smaller additions to the air around you. Improper ventilation, as well as smoking cigarettes or cigars, may seem like minor activities, but they can be consistent contributors.

Agricultural or Commercial Waste

Chemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers used while farming can also contribute to air pollution. A common byproduct of such agricultural activities is ammonia gas. Ammonia is one of the most hazardous gases present in our atmosphere.

This 2016 study describes how some emissions generated from farms and ranches are more significant than the combined emission from other man-made sources. Along with ammonia, methane is a common emission generated from agricultural sites.

Similarly, growing commercialization has caused an increase in the number of construction sites. The constant excavations and demolitions can be responsible for adding a lot of unwanted dust and pollution to our air.

Burning Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels include coal or other petroleum products. When these are burned, they emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide. The primary contributors to this emission are vehicles. The exhaust from various cars, trucks, jeeps, trains, and airplanes add to increasing air pollution.

Burning fossil fuels by automobiles contribute to nearly half of the total air pollution. As the population grows, so do the usage of these vehicles. After all, we rely heavily on them for transportation. However, they can add a lot of carbon monoxide as well as nitrogen oxides to the air around us. This is due to the improper combustion of fossil fuels.

Natural Causes

While human interference makes a significant contribution to air pollution, some of the pollutions is also caused by nature. Natural disasters such as forest fires, volcanoes, and dust storms can be responsible for causing a large amount of pollution. These can also release many harmful chemicals into our atmosphere.

Effects of Air Pollution

Air is critical for our existence. Whether we like it or not, the air quality around us affects us directly. Thus, it is necessary to understand the impact this pollution is creating on us as well as the environment. Some of the harmful effects brought on by excessive air pollution are as follows:

Respiratory Problems

Breathing in polluted air can cause a variety of respiratory problems. Air pollution has also been linked with several heart conditions. The pollution does not have to be direct for you to experience the negative impacts. Children are especially at high-risk as they are susceptible to asthma and pneumonia.

The presence of benzene and acetaldehyde in fossil fuel combustion has also been linked to cancer. WHO has reported that air pollution is responsible for nearly 7 million deaths every year. This polluted air is also linked with lung cancer, as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Global Warming

One of the main effects of air pollution is speeding up global warming. The harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and other greenhouse gases form a kind of blanket in our atmosphere. This blanket traps a lot of the solar rays from leaving our atmosphere. The heat trapped then causes a rise in temperatures all around the world.

Global warming can accelerate the melting of icecaps, icebergs, and is also responsible for the rise in sea levels. These changes can have devastating impacts on wildlife and their habitats. Global warming can also leave us more vulnerable to natural disasters.

Ozone Layer Depletion

Ozone layer depletion goes hand-in-hand with global warming. Due to the increasing levels of chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere, this layer is thinning. These gases react with the ozone layer and cause, not just thinning but also depletion in certain areas. This layer is vital in protecting us from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Acid Rain

As we know, fossil fuel combustion can release large amounts of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides into the atmosphere. When water goes through its natural water cycle, the evaporated water can mix with these gases as it condenses. This combination results in an acidic rainfall. Acid rain can be extremely damaging to crops and plant life. The sulfur emissions from this rain can result in chronic lung problems for humans. .

Effect on Marine Life

A high presence of nitrogen in the air can induce a condition called eutrophication. During this condition, a layer of algae develops on the sea’s surface. This growth can have adverse effects on the fish, plants as well as the wildlife that depends on this water supply. You can also see this growth in lakes and ponds.

Effect on Wildlife

Heavy air pollution can disrupt many wildlife habitats. The poor air quality, as well as acid rains, can destroy the sustenance of many species. This can cause birds and animals to relocate. We are in danger of losing many rare species of wildlife due to their inability to acclimatize to these changes.

Solutions of Air Pollution

For too long, we have only been contributing to adding to air pollution. If we so choose, we can now be influential in solving this air crisis. To begin with, here are a few things you can do to help minimize air pollution:

Switch to Public Transport

As we’ve learned about the effects of exhaust fumes on air quality, the best thing we can do is limit our vehicle usage. Instead of individual cars, we can make it a habit to use more buses and trains to reduce our carbon footprint. Similarly, switching to bicycles as a whole can be beneficial not just to the environment but also to your health.

Conserve Energy

We may not realize how much fossil fuels go into generating our electricity supply every day. To prevent adding to the existing air pollution, we should try to minimize our energy usage. This means switching off the lights and appliances whenever they aren’t in use.

Opt. for Energy-efficient Devices

As an addition to conserving energy, you should also consider switching to more energy-efficient appliances. For instance, CFL lights use a lot less electricity and also last much longer. You should also look into replacing existing appliances with their solar-powered counterparts.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

The best way to minimize pollution is to make sure you are not adding to the existing waste. This could mean finding multiple uses for an item. In the long haul, you want to reduce the amount of waste you generate. You might not think they will not impact the air quality directly. However, these wastes are bound to end up in a landfill and impact the overall pollution generated.

Switch to Clean Energy

These days clean energy is in. Clean energy has proved that it is much more than just a passing trend. With solar, wind, and geothermal energy on the rise, switching to clean energy has never been easier.

You can find the greener version of nearly every appliance from solar lighting to motion detectors, even water heaters! The government, too, is providing tax breaks along with grants to incentivize the switch to clean energy.

In Summary,

Air pollution affects not just us humans but also plants and wildlife around us. Excessive air pollution can cause an imbalance in our ecosystem itself. The primary source of air pollution in various human activities. We can minimize this by making better and smarter choices with energy in our everyday lives.