What is Air Pollution?
Air pollution is simply one of the sub-categories and forms of the broader term pollution. Air pollution refers to the contamination of the atmosphere. Any alteration to the physical, chemical and biological composition of the air in the atmosphere can be referred to as pollution.
Air pollution is said to have occurred when excessive quantities of hazardous substances such as gases, smokes, dust, biological molecules, and particulate matters are released into the atmosphere. These hazardous substances are known as air pollutants.
What Are Air Pollutants?
Air pollutants are any material in the air which has negative effects on living beings (humans, plants, and animals) and the ecosystem at large. These pollutants can take the form of liquid droplets, solid particles or gases. A pollutant can be of man-made or natural origin, it can also be a combination of both.
The emission of such substances into the earth’s atmosphere makes it difficult for humans, plants, and animals to survive as the air becomes dirty and makes habitation strenuous.
Types of Air Pollution
Air pollution is can be separated into two distinct categories; indoor air pollution and outdoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution
This encompasses exposures to carbon oxides, particulate matters, and other pollutants carried and circulated indoor via air or dust. Examples include:
- Gases (radon, carbon monoxide, etc.)
- Building materials (formaldehyde, asbestos, lead, etc.)
- Household products and chemicals.
- Pollen and Mold.
- Outdoor indoor allergens.
- Smoke from tobacco or cigarette.
Outdoor air pollution
This involves exposures which take place outside our home environment. Examples include:
- Noxious gases (carbon monoxide, chemical vapors, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, etc.)
- Fine particles produced by the burning of fossil fuels (such as petroleum and coal used in energy production)
- Ground-level ozone (a reactive form of oxygen and a primary component of urban smog)
- Smoke from tobacco or cigarette.
However, it is important to mention that, outdoor air pollution do often times make its way indoors by way of open windows, doors, ventilation, etc.
Sources of Air Pollution
Any attempt undertaken to study the sources of air pollution must engage the use of a series of activities and interactions that create these pollutants. An understudy of two of these sources; Man-made sources and Natural sources will be embarked upon herein.
This source includes pollution of air gotten from natural processes, i.e. they are not man-made. Examples include volcanic eruption, smoke gotten from the combustion of various inflammable objects, the emission of polluted gases, etc.
Also, gases emitted from the body processes of humans, plants, and animals such as oxygen from plants during photosynthesis, carbon dioxide emitted from humans during respiration and methane from cattle during digestion.
Man Made Sources
Like the natural sources of air pollution, smoke features as a prominent component of man-made sources of air pollution. Smokes are emitted through different means (motor vehicles, biomass, furnaces, factories’ pipes, etc.) and pose dangers to humans and animals alike. The chemical reaction of certain chemicals and gases also form harmful smokes or fumes which are dangerous to the survival of humans, animals, and plants.
Types of Air Pollutants
For a proper analysis and understanding of the causes of air pollution, there is the need to have a look at the types of its pollutants. Basically, this falls into two categories. Primary pollutants and secondary pollutants.
Primary Air Pollutants
This kind of air pollutants can be derived from primary sources and/or secondary sources. Pollutants that are direct results of processes are referred to as primary pollutants. Simply put, pollutants that occur on account of work done, such as ash from a volcanic eruption. The sulfur dioxide emitted from factories during production processes and carbon monoxide gas from the exhausts of vehicles.
Secondary Air Pollutants
Secondary air pollutants, on the other hand, are caused by the reactions from the interaction of primary pollutants. Simply put, secondary air pollutants are products of the chain reaction of primary air pollutants. Smog created by the interactions of several primary pollutants is a good example of secondary pollutants; also ground-level ozone can be cited as another good example under this category.
However, it is important we note that some pollutants may be both primary and secondary in nature. They can be emitted directly and at the same time formed from other primary pollutants.
Causes of Air Pollution
Burning of Fossil Fuels
A large percentage of air pollution caused by human activities is done through the burning of fossil fuel (such as coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline) to produce electricity and also to power our vehicles.
Gases emitted from cars, jeeps, trucks, trains, and airplanes even, on a daily basis cause an immense amount of air pollution. Indeed these luxuries are necessary to meet our basic daily needs; however, their overuse is damaging our environment as these noxious gases keep polluting the environment.
Nitrogen oxide produced from both natural and man-made processes, as well as carbon monoxide caused by improper or incomplete combustion, which is generally emitted from motor vehicles, are yet another common examples of air pollutants.
Exhaust From Factories and Industries
Due to the increase in human population and the ever-insatiable need of man, more manufacturing industries are being set up on a daily basis.
However, the downside of such establishments is that they cause pollution to the air and other forms of pollution.
These industries release a large number of toxic gases (hydrocarbons, organic compounds, carbon dioxides, etc.) and other chemicals into the air thus, depleting its quality.
A good example can be seen in the activities of petroleum refineries which release hydrocarbons and other chemicals that pollute the air, water, and land.
Basically, mining is a process that involves the extraction of minerals beneath the earth using large equipment. The process involved in mining is such that dust and chemicals are released into the air causing massive air pollution.
This accounts greatly for the deteriorating health conditions of workers and people in the neighborhood.
The replacement of the crude method of farming with mechanized practices as well as the use of insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers in agricultural activities has grown quite a lot and has become the trend these days. However, despite the achieved result of efficiency and a significant bump in harvest, they emit harmful chemicals into the air.
Ammonia released from agriculture-related activities is one of the most hazardous gases in the atmosphere.
Indoor Air Pollution
Indeed, air pollution is not only limited to the external environment, air pollution also occurs indoor as household cleaning products, as well as painting supplies, emit toxic chemicals in the air which invariably causes air pollution.
Effects of Air pollution
Heart and Respiratory Problems
Air pollution is one of the leading causes of heart and respiratory diseases worldwide. Diseases such as cancer, pneumonia, asthma, etc., are associated with air pollution. Residents of air polluted areas, especially children, are known to suffer from chronic conditions of pneumonia and asthma. On an annual basis, millions of people (Adult and children) die of heart and respiratory diseases.
This has a direct effect on mother earth as it brings about an alteration in the temperature of the earth. Greenhouse gases and excess atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02) combine with other air pollutants and absorb solar radiation and sunlight that have bounced off the earth’s surface.
Ideally, these radiations are meant to escape into outer space; however, these heat-trapping pollutants, which last for centuries, do trap the heat, causing global warming (a term which refers to the increase in the temperature of the earth).
These air pollutants are emitted from homes, cars, factories and power plants; all of which burn and run on fossil fuel.
The effect of global warming can be seen in the increase in temperature across the globe, the rise in sea level, as well as the melting of ice in colder regions; all of which have brought about displacement and loss of natural habitats.
During the burning of fossil fuels, harmful and toxic gases such as sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere. The release of such gases to the atmosphere is dangerous to both human, animal, and crop life because whenever it rains, the water droplets mix with these air pollutants and becomes acidic which eventually falls back to earth in the form of acid rain.
Acid rain is, however, very toxic to humans, animals, and plants. Some of the effects of acid rain include; stunted growth of plants, pollution of water bodies (which eventually leads to the death of aquatic and human lives), destruction of architectural buildings, the death of terrestrial animals, etc.
Eutrophication depicts a condition where an excessive amount of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, etc.) are disposed of in water bodies leading to algal boom and increased growth of plants in water bodies.
These nutrients fall on water surface when it rains, causing eutrophication of surface waters and death of aquatic lives.
Effect on Wildlife
The effect of air pollution is not only limited to humans as animals also face certain devastating effects. The presence of toxic substances in the air forces wildlife species to change their habitat, i.e. move from one location to another. Likewise, the deposit of toxic pollutants over the surface of water also affects sea animals.
Depletion of Ozone layer
The ozone layer, also known as the ozone shield, is located in the earth’s stratosphere and it is responsible for absorbing and protecting humans from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The presence of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere is gradually depleting the earth’s ozone layer. It is important to note that UV rays do not only affect humans but also affect crops and animals.
Solutions of Air Pollution
Emphasis on Clean Energy Resources
Better sensitization of the populace on the use of clean energy technology should be embarked upon by the government. This effort is to further complement the effort of government in providing grants to consumers who have interest in installing solar panels in their homes and offices. Clean energy technologies such as wind, solar, and geothermal are economically friendly as well as ecologically friendly.
Since large amounts of fossil fuel are being burnt to produce electricity, the environment can be saved from degradation by reducing the amount of fossil fuel to be burnt. This can be done through the conservation of energy such as the switching off of lights and fans when going out, the use of energy saving lamps (LED lamps), etc.
Understand the concept of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
A proper understanding of the concept and use of the 3R’s will go a long way to reduce pollution. It is important that we do not throw away items but rather re-use them and in cases where re-using is not an option, then such items should be put up for recycling.
Use Public Mode of Transportation
Attempts should be made to sensitize and encourage people to use public transportation more than their private cars. In cases where public transportation is not an option, people should attempt carpooling. Carpooling is an option to be considered where colleagues live in the same locality and have the same timings. This option helps to save money, energy and is ecologically friendly.
Use Energy Efficient Devices
The use of energy saving devices such as energy-saving lamps, CFL lights, Eco kettle, solar charger, etc., consume less electricity when compared to non-energy saving devices.
Air pollution is one of man’s greatest challenge and a challenge that must be overcome for a better future, which is why we have to join the fight against air pollution and save human existence by saving mother earth.
On a daily basis, attempts are being made across the globe in several spheres of personal, governmental and industrial levels to check the intensity at which air pollution rises and to maintain a balance with the proportion of foundational gases.
Everyone has got a role to play. Only with a combined effort can we combat this environmental menace.
Save mother earth, save human existence! If you feel you have been a victim of air pollution, contact a professional.