You may wonder that what is air pollution and why people are much worried of its effects. Their concern is right because it has become one of the main major causes of premature deaths all around the world.
The worst thing is that the death toll due to the menace of air pollution is rising day by day. So it is must that each one of us fully knows that what is air pollution and how we can prevent its all types of effects to live safely.
I think to understand fully what is air pollution first we need to understand all things related to it.
What is air?
Air is a blanket of different gases surrounding our earth. Air doesn’t have any colour or smell.
We breathe in the air. Air mainly contains nitrogen gas of 78%. Other gases in air are oxygen (21%), argon (0.9%), carbon dioxide (0.04%). Beside these gases, air also contains small amount of other gases and water vapours.
What is air pollution?
The presence of such pollutants or chemicals in the air which are not usually present, to such a level or extent which deteriorates the quality of air and poses health risk is called air pollution.
Pollutants may be particulates, biological entities (microbes), ash, toxic chemicals, odours or smoke that enters into the air and pollutes air. It lowers the quality of air. Pollution makes the air unclean and not suitable for breathing in.
Air pollution can occur at indoor or outdoor. It causes many problems for living organisms particularly humans. It can also cause:
- Acid rain
- Global warming
- Ozone depletion
- Risk to human health and
- Less visibility.
Major causes of air pollution
Air pollution can occur due to various reasons. Major gases that cause air pollution are carbon mono oxide, sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia and methane.
Man-made causes of air pollution
Besides, particulate matter and radioactive pollutants also cause air pollution. Anthropogenic activities are the major cause of air pollution like:
- Industrialization. Rapid industrialization has caused air pollution to a massive level
- Automobiles or vehicles. Smoke from automobiles is a major cause of air contamination particularly emission of lead.
- Burning of fossil fuels: Emissions of harmful gases from burning of coal, petroleum etc. enter the air and cause air pollution like sulphur dioxide. (in case of improper burning, carbon mono oxide is released which is even more harmful)
- Fumes from varnish, paint, aerosol sprays.
- Mining: Its main operations like drilling, blasting, hauling, collection and transportation
- Landfills: Methane gas is released from landfills which is a toxic gas.
Natural causes of air pollution
- Dust that comes from large barren areas
- Gases and ash coming from volcanic eruptions
- Methane coming from natural landfills
- Radioactive pollutants from radioactive materials.
Types of air pollutants
The pollutants that cause air pollution could be primary or secondary.
Primarily air pollutants are those air pollutants that are released directly into air to cause air pollution. They enter into air from direct activities of humans or from natural sources. For example combustion of coal releases sulphur dioxide in air.
Secondary air pollutants include those pollutants which are not directly released into atmosphere but are formed from primary pollutants as a result of chemical reactions in air. Photochemical smog is an example of this.
Effects of air pollution
Air pollution has wide ranging effects. It can cause deleterious effects on human body. We depend on clean air for breathing. Clean air provides us visibility. Air contamination poses a threat to all these available things.
Acid rain is a comprehensive term that includes any form of precipitation with acidic components, such as sulphuric or nitric acid that falls to the ground from the atmosphere. It can be in wet or dry form.
Acid rain occurs when sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) are emitted into the atmosphere and then these gases mix with water vapours to form sulphuric acid and nitric acid.
These acids along with precipitation fall down and cause harm to water ecosystems, harm to buildings, death of plants, damage to soil , damage to forests and adverse effects to human health like asthma or bronchitis.
Effects on human health
Air pollution mainly causes adverse effects on human health. Breathing in polluted air puts us in a higher risk for asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Our lungs become weaker in efficiency. Our skin becomes vulnerable to many harmful pollutants and radiations which can cause various skin problems.
Coughing and wheezing are also results of air contamination. Our immune system, glandular system and reproductive system are also damaged by air contamination.
Various carcinogens in the air owing to air pollution can cause cancer. Heart problems also arise. The particles adversely affect the skin.
Fatigue and shortness of breath is also caused by air pollution. Tobacco smoke in air is a worst enemy of human health and causes cancer. Lead particularly disturbs our nervous system.
Carbon monoxide combines with haemoglobin in our blood to decrease the amount of oxygen that enters our blood through our lungs.
It is a major impact of polluted air. It is the warming of earth due to formation of a blanket of carbon dioxide gas in atmosphere.
Average temperature around the world has risen by 0.75°C (1.4°F) over the last 100 years. The natural greenhouse effect maintains the Earth’s temperature at a safe level making it possible for humans and many other life forms to exist. It is done by ozone.
When CO2 and some other gases accumulate in atmosphere, the ultraviolet radiations come in earth and can’t go back hence trapping in earth atmosphere causes warming of earth. The glaciers melt, sea level rises, hurricanes, cyclones and desertification occur frequently.
Rain carries and deposits the Nitrogen and some other nutrients in soil and water bodies. This disturbs the nutrient balance in the soil and water bodies. This can result in algae growth in lakes and water bodies leading to algal blooms. This make conditions for other living organism harmful.
Depletion of ozone
Depletion of ozone by human activities is causing a hole in ozone which leads harmful radiations to pass and come in earth’s atmosphere.
Chemical reactions occurring in atmosphere and involving air pollutants create poisonous gas ozone (O3). This manmade ozone affects the health of people and damages vegetation and other animals.
It causes irritation to eyes, nausea, headache, asthma, and damage to brain, nerves and many other diseases.
Why do we care about air pollution?
As we have seen above that air pollution has wide ranging effects on human health including both short-term and long-term. The glaciers would melt and the sea level would rise if this scenario continues.
The earth’s atmosphere would become unfit to survive if the menace of air pollution continues. Humans and many other species may be adversely affected by it.
We should care about it, because if we do not, we would soon be in danger of our survival due to lack of fresh and clean air, air-borne diseases, lack of air visibility and eutrophication.
So proper measure should be taken to reduce air pollution as much as possible like limiting industrial emissions, using more advanced or smoke free vehicles, vanishing use of CFC’s both at collective and individual levels.
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