Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or damages the natural environment into the atmosphere.
The atmosphere is a complex dynamic natural gaseous system that is essential to support life on planet Earth. Stratospheric ozone depletion due to air pollution has long been recognized as a threat to human health as well as to the Earth's ecosystems.
Indoor air pollution and urban air quality are listed as two of the world's worst pollution problems in the 2008 Blacksmith Institute World's Worst Polluted Places report.
An air pollutant is known as a substance in the air that can cause harm to humans and the environment. Pollutants can be in the form of solid particles, liquid droplets, or gases. In addition, they may be natural or man-made.
Pollutants can be classified as either primary or secondary. Usually, primary pollutants are substances directly emitted from a process, such as ash from a volcanic eruption, the carbon monoxide gas from a motor vehicle exhaust or sulfur dioxide released from factories.
Secondary pollutants are not emitted directly. Rather, they form in the air when primary pollutants react or interact. An important example of a secondary pollutant is ground level ozone — one of the many secondary pollutants that make up photochemical smog.
Note that some pollutants may be both primary and secondary: that is, they are both emitted directly and formed from other primary pollutants.
About 4 percent of deaths in the United States can be attributed to air pollution, according to the Environmental Science Engineering Program at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Major primary pollutants produced by human activity include:
Sulfur oxides (SOx) - especially sulfur dioxide, a chemical compound with the formula SO2. SO2 is produced by volcanoes and in various industrial processes. Since coal and petroleum often contain sulfur compounds, their combustion generates sulfur dioxide. Further oxidation of SO2, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as NO2, forms H2SO4, and thus acid rain. This is one of the causes for concern over the environmental impact of the use of these fuels as power sources.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) - especially nitrogen dioxide are emitted from high temperature combustion. Can be seen as the brown haze dome above or plume downwind of cities. Nitrogen dioxide is the chemical compound with the formula NO2. It is one of the several nitrogen oxides. This reddish-brown toxic gas has a characteristic sharp, biting odor. NO2 is one of the most prominent air pollutants.
Carbon monoxide - is a colourless, odourless, non-irritating but very poisonous gas. It is a product by incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural gas, coal or wood. Vehicular exhaust is a major source of carbon monoxide.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) - a greenhouse gas emitted from combustion but is also a gas vital to living organisms. It is a natural gas in the atmosphere.
Volatile organic compounds - VOCs are an important outdoor air pollutant. In this field they are often divided into the separate categories of methane (CH4) and non-methane (NMVOCs). Methane is an extremely efficient greenhouse gas which contributes to enhanced global warming. Other hydrocarbon VOCs are also significant greenhouse gases via their role in creating ozone and in prolonging the life of methane in the atmosphere, although the effect varies depending on local air quality. Within the NMVOCs, the aromatic compounds benzene, toluene and xylene are suspected carcinogens and may lead to leukemia through prolonged exposure. 1,3-butadiene is another dangerous compound which is often associated with industrial uses.
Particulate matter - Particulates, alternatively referred to as particulate matter (PM) or fine particles, are tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in a gas. In contrast, aerosol refers to particles and the gas together. Sources of particulate matter can be man made or natural. Some particulates occur naturally, originating from volcanoes, dust storms, forest and grassland fires, living vegetation, and sea spray. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants and various industrial processes also generate significant amounts of aerosols. Averaged over the globe, anthropogenic aerosols—those made by human activities—currently account for about 10 percent of the total amount of aerosols in our atmosphere. Increased levels of fine particles in the air are linked to health hazards such as heart disease, altered lung function and lung cancer.
Persistent free radicals connected to airborne fine particles could cause cardiopulmonary disease.
Toxic metals, such as lead, cadmium and copper.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - harmful to the ozone layer emitted from products currently banned from use.
Ammonia (NH3) - emitted from agricultural processes. Ammonia is a compound with the formula NH3. It is normally encountered as a gas with a characteristic pungent odor. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to foodstuffs and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or indirectly, is also a building block for the synthesis of many pharmaceuticals. Although in wide use, ammonia is both caustic and hazardous.
Odors — such as from garbage, sewage, and industrial processes
Radioactive pollutants - produced by nuclear explosions, war explosives, and natural processes such as the radioactive decay of radon.
Secondary pollutants include:
Particulate matter formed from gaseous primary pollutants and compounds in photochemical smog. Smog is a kind of air pollution; the word "smog" is a portmanteau of smoke and fog. Classic smog results from large amounts of coal burning in an area caused by a mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide. Modern smog does not usually come from coal but from vehicular and industrial emissions that are acted on in the atmosphere by sunlight to form secondary pollutants that also combine with the primary emissions to form photochemical smog.
Ground level ozone (O3) formed from NOx and VOCs. Ozone (O3) is a key constituent of the troposphere (it is also an important constituent of certain regions of the stratosphere commonly known as the Ozone layer). Photochemical and chemical reactions involving it drive many of the chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere by day and by night. At abnormally high concentrations brought about by human activities (largely the combustion of fossil fuel), it is a pollutant, and a constituent of smog.
Peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN) - similarly formed from NOx and VOCs.
Minor air pollutants include:
A large number of minor hazardous air pollutants. Some of these are regulated in USA under the Clean Air Act and in Europe under the Air Framework Directive.
A variety of persistent organic pollutants, which can attach to particulate matter.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, to be capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, biomagnify in food chains, and to have potential significant impacts on human health and the environment.
Sources of air pollution refer to the various locations, activities or factors which are responsible for the releasing of pollutants in the atmosphere. These sources can be classified into two major categories which are:
Anthropogenic sources (human activity) mostly related to burning different kinds of fuel
"Stationary Sources" include smoke stacks of power plants, manufacturing facilities (factories) and waste incinerators, as well as furnaces and other types of fuel-burning heating devices
"Mobile Sources" include motor vehicles, marine vessels, aircraft and the effect of sound etc.
Chemicals, dust and controlled burn practices in agriculture and forestry management. Controlled or prescribed burning is a technique sometimes used in forest management, farming, prairie restoration or greenhouse gas abatement. Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters. Controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, thus renewing the forest.
Fumes from paint, hair spray, varnish, aerosol sprays and other solvents
Waste deposition in landfills, which generate methane.Methane is not toxic; however, it is highly flammable and may form explosive mixtures with air. Methane is also an asphyxiant and may displace oxygen in an enclosed space. Asphyxia or suffocation may result if the oxygen concentration is reduced to below 19.5% by displacement
Military, such as nuclear weapons, toxic gases, germ warfare and rocketry
Dust from natural sources, usually large areas of land with little or no vegetation.
Methane, emitted by the digestion of food by animals, for example cattle.
Radon gas from radioactive decay within the Earth's crust. Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring, radioactive noble gas that is formed from the decay of radium. It is considered to be a health hazard. Radon gas from natural sources can accumulate in buildings, especially in confined areas such as the basement and it is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking.
Smoke and carbon monoxide from wildfires.
Volcanic activity, which produce sulfur, chlorine, and ash particulates.
Main article: AP 42 Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission Factors
Air pollutant emission factors are representative values that attempt to relate the quantity of a pollutant released to the ambient air with an activity associated with the release of that pollutant. These factors are usually expressed as the weight of pollutant divided by a unit weight, volume, distance, or duration of the activity emitting the pollutant (e.g., kilograms of particulate emitted per megagram of coal burned). Such factors facilitate estimation of emissions from various sources of air pollution. In most cases, these factors are simply averages of all available data of acceptable quality, and are generally assumed to be representative of long-term averages.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has published a compilation of air pollutant emission factors for a multitude of industrial sources. The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and many other countries have published similar compilations, as well as the European Environment Agency.
The World Health Organization states that 2.4 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution, with 1.5 million of these deaths attributable to indoor air pollution."Epidemiological studies suggest that more than 500,000 Americans die each year from cardiopulmonary disease linked to breathing fine particle air pollution… A study by the University of Birmingham has shown a strong correlation between pneumonia related deaths and air pollution from motor vehicles. Worldwide more deaths per year are linked to air pollution than to automobile accidents. Published in 2005 suggests that 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution annually. Direct causes of air pollution related deaths include aggravated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases, and respiratory allergies. The US EPA estimates that a proposed set of changes in diesel engine technology (Tier 2) could result in 12,000 fewer premature mortalities, 15,000 fewer heart attacks, 6,000 fewer emergency room visits by children with asthma, and 8,900 fewer respiratory-related hospital admissions each year in the United States.
The worst short term civilian pollution crisis in India was the 1984 Bhopal Disaster. Leaked industrial vapors from the Union Carbide factory, belonging to Union Carbide, Inc., U.S.A., killed more than 2,000 people outright and injured anywhere from 150,000 to 600,000 others, some 6,000 of whom would later die from their injuries. The United Kingdom suffered its worst air pollution event when the December 4 Great Smog of 1952 formed over London. In six days more than 4,000 died, and 8,000 more died within the following months. An accidental leak of anthrax spores from a biological warfare laboratory in the former USSR in 1979 near Sverdlovsk is believed to have been the cause of hundreds of civilian deaths. The worst single incident of air pollution to occur in the United States of America occurred in Donora, Pennsylvania in late October, 1948, when 20 people died and over 7,000 were injured.
The health effects caused by air pollutants may range from subtle biochemical and physiological changes to difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing and aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. These effects can result in increased medication use, increased doctor or emergency room visits, more hospital admissions and premature death. The human health effects of poor air quality are far reaching, but principally affect the body's respiratory system and the cardiovascular system. Individual reactions to air pollutants depend on the type of pollutant a person is exposed to, the degree of exposure, the individual's health status and genetics.
A new economic study of the health impacts and associated costs of air pollution in the Los Angeles Basin and San Joaquin Valley of Southern California shows that more than 3800 people die prematurely (approximately 14 years earlier than normal) each year because air pollution levels violate federal standards. The number of annual premature deaths is considerably higher than the fatalities related to auto collisions in the same area, which average fewer than 2,000 per year .
Diesel exhaust (DE) is a major contributor to combustion derived particulate matter air pollution. In several human experimental studies, using a well validated exposure chamber setup, DE has been linked to acute vascular dysfunction and increased thrombus formation. This serves as a plausible mechanistic link between the previously described association between particulate matter air pollution and increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.
Carbon dioxide is one the main pollutants that causes air pollution. This is because, although living beings do exhale carbon dioxide, this gas is harmful when emitted from other sources, which are caused due to human activity. An additional release of carbon dioxide happens due to various such activities. Carbon dioxide gas is used in various industries such as the oil industry and the chemical industry. The manufacturing process of most products would require the use of this gas. There are various human activities that add to the increased proportions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The combustion of fossil fuels and the harmful effects of deforestation have all contributed towards the same. show that amongst the various gasses emitted during a volcanic eruption, carbon dioxide remains to be at least 40% of the emission. Scientists have now therefore identified carbon dioxide as one of those elements that have contributed to global warming.
Causes of air pollution are not limited to this. The combustion of fuels in automobiles, jet planes etc all cause the release of several primary pollutants into the air. The burning of fossil fuels in big cities which is seen at most factories, offices and even a large number of homes, it is no wonder that air pollution is increasing at an alarming rate. The release of other harmful gases all adds to the state that we see today. Although carbon dioxide plays an important role in various other processes like photosynthesis, breathing an excess of the same also causes harmful effects towards one’s health.
The various causes of air pollution that releases harmful gases into the atmosphere are caused due to the increasing number of power plants and manufacturing units or industries that mostly have activities related to the burning of fuels. Besides, as mentioned earlier, most automobiles, marine vessels, activities that involve the burning of wood, fumes that are released from aerosol sprays, military activities that involve the use of nuclear weapons, all are the numerous causes of air pollution.
Carbon monoxide is another such gas which, although was present in the atmosphere earlier, is now considered to be a major pollutant. An excess of the same has a harmful effect on our system. There are many reasons why carbon monoxide can be released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities. This is also produced due to any fuel burning appliance and appliances such as gas water heaters, fireplaces, woodstoves, gas stoves, gas dryers, yard equipments as well as automobiles, which add to the increased proportion of this gas into the atmosphere.
Sulfur dioxide is yet another harmful pollutant that causes air pollution. Sulfur dioxide is emitted largely to the excessive burning of fossil fuels, petroleum refineries, chemical and coal burning power plants etc. Nitrogen dioxide when combined with sulfur dioxide can even cause a harmful reaction in the atmosphere that can cause acid rain.
Nitrogen dioxide is one more gas that is emitted into the atmosphere as a result of various human activities. An excess of nitrogen dioxide mainly happens due to most power plants seen in major cities, the burning of fuels due to various motor vehicles and other such sources, whether industrial or commercial that cause the increase in the levels of nitrogen dioxide.
These and a number of other hazardous air pollutants are emitted with the various numbers of activities that we carry out during the day which are the main causes of air pollution.
Carpool- This will help to reduce the number of vehicles on the already congested roads.
Always keep your car tuned properly so that it remains in a good condition.
Save energy- Try to use minimum amounts of natural gas and even electricity. Whenever possible, avoid the use of air conditioner and use a fan instead.
Always buy recycled products.
Reuse things such as paper and plastic bags, paper etc. This will contribute a lot towards reducing the effects of air pollution and global warming.
Avoid the use of firecrackers. You don’t really need it to express your feeling of happiness.
Go in for water-based paints instead of varnishes.
If you really cannot avoid using your car, plan your work systematically to reduce air pollution.