Air pollution is the process through which harmful materials are introduced into the atmosphere, and these materials cause damage to man and the environment itself. The harmful substances are known as air pollutants and examples of these are carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Air pollution can either be indoor or outdoor. Indoor air pollution is where the pollutants are released inside the building e.g. when cooking while outdoor air pollution involves pollutants that are produced outside a building being released into the atmosphere, for example, the ashes from a volcanic eruption.
There are two main types of air pollutants: primary pollutants and secondary pollutants. Primary pollutants are those harmful substances released into the atmosphere directly from a process e.g. when a volcanic eruption occurs and releases ash into the atmosphere or the carbon monoxide released from motor vehicles. Secondary pollutants include harmful substances formed when the primary pollutants in the atmosphere react for example acid rain. The pollutants take different forms of matter i.e. solid particles, droplets, or gases.
Greenhouse gases along with the other gas pollutants are considered to be the most dangerous environmental pollutants as they are spread fast and unlimitedly the reason of their chemical features. In addition, it is impossible to see most of them which add more difficulties for those who try to exercise some sort of protective measures. Generally, it appears that the greenhouse gases, though they are not as deadly as phosgene, for example, destroy the ozone layer, and, thus, appear to be the reason for the slow death of all the living creatures on the planet. Speaking about the greenhouse gases and their poignant effect on the environment, it is important to identify those gases, first.
Greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide methane, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, radon, and fluorinated greenhouse. Next, the very important point is that though greenhouse gases do not affect human health to the extent that some really poisonous gases do, still they destroy the ozone layer, ruin the natural balance on the planet, cause global warming and, thus, become the reason for a slow death for all the living beings on it.
Further, a few of the most harmful gashouses pollutants will be discussed:
Nitrogen oxide is a highly reactive gas that is released in the atmosphere from emissions or exhausts of vehicles. It is known as a contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone. It also causes respiratory problems in humans when inhaled for long.
Sulfur dioxide is also another air pollutant. It is a highly reactive gas which source is the industries and power plants that burn fossil fuel. It is highly emitted by industries that manufacture metal and also those that burn sulfur during their manufacturing process. Sulfur dioxide also affects the respiratory system in humans.
Carbon dioxide is a colorless gas considered to be a pollutant when it accumulates in the atmosphere (though, in general, it does not present any serious threat to the environment and human health). It is produced during a burning process; however, its main source is from vehicles’ exhaust. When the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeds its norm it causes the greenhouse effect. This is especially because trees that use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis turning it into oxygen useful for the atmosphere are being continually cut down (Holdgate 18). The carbon dioxide accumulation creates a layer in the atmosphere that traps heat at the ground level leading to increasing temperatures.
Carbon monoxide is another air pollutant. It is a colorless gas considered to be poisonous because it combines with the blood hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin, a substance that leads to suffocation or even death because it reduces oxygen supply in the body. CO is mostly produced in car exhausts. It is also produced when charcoal is burnt as charcoal does not burn completely.
Radon is another gas that is known to cause indoor pollution, especially in the USA. It is a radioactive, colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas which makes it very dangerous for humans in case of its penetration into the atmosphere in the vast amount. In particular, this gas is considered to be carcinogenic and causes respiratory problems (Diesendorf 15).
All in all, the sad effect that greenhouse gases along with the other gaseous pollutants have on the environment can be hardly underestimated. Their main fault is in causing the destruction of the ozone layer which unavoidably leads to ruining of the environment and to a slow death of all the living creatures on the planet. It is high time for people to think about their future reducing the productions polluting the environment with greenhouse gases.
Machines Producing Pollutant Gases
The machines that cause air pollution include motor vehicles, machines used in industries, machines used in mining as well as some household machines. Motor vehicles emit gases due to incomplete combustion of the fossil fuels being used i.e..petrol or diesel. Some of the gases released which are considered to be potential pollutants are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide as well as lead. These gases cause harmful effects on human beings both directly and indirectly. The advancement of technology has led to the use of machines in industries. These machines emit gases that pollute the environment during the production process.
Mainly the gases emitted are sulfur dioxide by industries manufacturing metal and those that burn sulfur. Machines used in mining also pollute the environment through the release of particles of mineralogical deposits into the air. A good example is mining explosives. Air pollution goes as far as involving household machines that we use in our day-to-day activities. The dry cleaning machine used at home causes air pollution through the use of chlorinated and petroleum solvents which emit harmful gases into the air.
Consequences of Air Pollution
Air pollution has many sad effects. First of all, the greenhouse effect is one of them which is caused by the accumulation of excess carbon dioxide along with the other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This carbon dioxide retains solar energy on the earth’s surface increasing global temperatures. This increase in global temperature is known as global warming. Global warming has many harmful effects on both man and the environment. It leads to increased evaporation causing the increase of annual rainfall especially in the areas that experience regular rainfall. This causes changes in weather patterns and climate.
High evaporation rates mean that there will be drier soils and hence less cultivation. This is a threat to food security. It leads to a rise in sea level resulting from the increased precipitation and thermal expansion of the oceans submerging tourist spots. Shrinkage of the ice cover on mountain peaks with the expectation of it being wiped out with time is another effect of global warming. It causes rising temperatures and increased rainfall which leads to the malaria epidemic which is the major disease, causing deaths among infants. It will also lead to the loss of forest cover because of a continuous increase in temperature together with decreased rainfall.
It causes permanent rivers to become seasonal or even dry up completely due to increased evaporation rate affecting water supply and hydroelectric schemes. There will be a change in animal migration patterns making it hard to predict when the animals move as a tourist attraction spot. Droughts and other related effects are likely to occur frequently making governance extremely difficult. Economies that depend on agriculture especially cash crops like coffee and tea that do well in a cool and wet climate will collapse (Diesendorf 23).
Furthermore, air pollution affects human health both in minor and major ways depending on the amount of exposure. Pollutants can lead to nose and eye irritation and can also affect the respiratory systems. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin and reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood. Lead changes the chemical balance in body cells destructing a row of important enzymes. High exposure causes chronic damage to the brain and nervous system. Nitrogen dioxide causes inflammation in the airways by activating natural allergens. Ozone which is a secondary pollutant damages the lungs tissue and reduces lung functions making it more sensitive to irritants. Sulfur dioxide stimulates nerves in the nose and throat lining and lung airways.
Next, acid rain is one of the effects of air pollution. This is the rain formed when sulphuric acid in the atmosphere combines with water droplets. This rain is harmful to both animals and plants because of the chemicals it contains. It destroys the leaves of plants, kills organisms in the soil making it infertile, kills aquatic organisms in water bodies e.g. fish, and causes human skin irritation.
Finally, air pollution causes ozone depletion. The ozone layer is an atmospheric layer that prevents harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun from entering the earth. The emission of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere damages the ozone layer causing ultraviolet rays to enter the earth. These rays cause health issues to humans e.g. cancer, skin problems, photodegradation; and also damage plants and animals (Diesendorf 67).
Solutions to Air Pollution
To control air pollution, harmful gases emission into the atmosphere has to be reduced to a minimum. Laws and registrations are made to control the number of emissions released. The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement that several industrialized countries committed to regulating emissions by the global community. The countries are supervised to ensure they keep to the agreement. Each government should enforce laws that ensure the least possible emissions are released into the atmosphere by its industries.
The workers in the power plants and industries with emissions should also be protected by the law to ensure their employers provide them with the necessary protective measures in order to reduce health issues among them.
Most countries have regulatory agencies that study and monitor the amount of pollution in the atmosphere and recommend ways to control it. For example, environmental control agency monitors the environment in the USA.
In the education system, the syllabus should include teaching students the effects of air pollution and the methods to prevent /reduce it. Awareness groups are to be formed which would educate people on varied techniques directed to reducing air pollution. For example, society should be taught against cutting trees, and the use of renewable sources of fuel such as biogas. Plenty of trees reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Carbon monoxide is mostly produced indoor by burning charcoals as charcoal does not burn completely. Adequate ventilation is required to prevent the accumulation of CO.
Smoking is another source of pollution. Laws that restrict smoking in public should be enhanced, and also an individual awareness of the sad consequences of smoking is to be created.
Governing bodies should form laws that regulate emissions from car exhausts by monitoring the vehicles being used and imported, and the fuel used by the vehicles.
In conclusion, pollution, in general, is the key issue that should be considered if we are to preserve the earth for future generations. Keen interest should be put in curbing pollution. Management and utilization of our resources are to be developed in the most efficient way possible. As urbanization increases the level of mechanization, more sources of pollutants are being created; thus, care and consideration should be taken when incorporating them into our lives. The environment should be our major concern at the community and individual levels. Population growth is another major factor that has contributed to cutting off the trees to create more space for building; thus, family planning methods should be taught and encouraged in our societies.
Diesendorf, Mark. Greenhouse solution with sustainable energy: Renewable energy, Australia: University of New South Wales 2007. Print.
Holdgate, Marvin. A perspective of environmental pollution, The United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1980, Print.