Air Pollution: Causes, Effects and Solutions

Introduction

Air pollution is the addition of foreign materials into the air. The foreign matter is usually of chemical and biological origin. In addition, it is not uncommon to find these materials being particulate in nature. The materials are usually considered to be harmful to human beings and the environment. Some of the common causes of air pollution are fossil fuel combustion, volcanic eruptions, among others. Carbon dioxide is among the main pollutants that cause air pollution.

It is also important to note that air pollution is harmful to human beings and the environment. Air pollution affects the health of people. Some of the most common diseases that air pollution causes include bronchitis and lung cancer (Bertollinni 2004). Heart diseases are also common to people who have been exposed to excessive amounts of contaminated air (Bertollinni 2004). This paper reviews the causes, effects, and solutions to air pollution. It also reviews some of the alternatives that can be employed in order to prevent air pollution.

History of Air Pollution

The issue of air pollution can be dated as early as the day man began using fire. The earliest societies had no difficulties in causing a wide variety of environmental degradation (Rao 1989). The main reason why the contemporary society excuses that behavior is because the magnitude of the changes they wrought was usually small. It is important to note that society does not need any amount of schooling in order to learn how to damage the environment.

This was especially exemplified during the beginning of the industrial revolution. Industrialization can, therefore, be considered as the major reason why many organizations have been involved in environmental issues. It was during this period that steel and mass production was a major part of America’s financial structure (Rothbard1997). The increase in steel production led to an increase in air pollution and consequently brings about health problems and environmental issues.

The Extent of the Problem

The damage caused by air pollution is often difficult to perceive even when the effects are substantial, and people rarely know the levels or sources of the pollution they are being exposed to. The extent of the problem of air pollution can be inferred from the impacts of the same.

Impacts on the Environment

Air pollution has many negative effects on the environment. Wanton destruction of forests causes more carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere. It is important to note that trees are responsible for producing oxygen by chemically breaking down carbon dioxide. This means that in the absence of trees, carbon dioxide remains intact; hence quality air is not regenerated (Agarwal 2009). Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are also some of the common causes of leaf damage.

Humans

Short term increases in respirable particulate matter lead to increased mortality, increased admissions to hospitals for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and an increase in the frequency of respiratory symptoms (Bertollinni 2004). Air pollution can also lead to an increase in the use of medication by asthma patients. In addition, air pollution can lead to morbidity and a decrease in life expectancy (European Centre for Environment and Health, 2000). It is quite difficult to disentangle the effects of particulate matters and biochemical substances that form part of air pollution. Thus, the effects of the particulate matter discussed above could simply be interpreted as indicating the effects of the pollutant mixture as a whole.

Plants and Animals

Pollutants can enter animals through two pathways, namely ingestion of contaminated material, and inhalation. Sulfur dioxide can cause changes in pulmonary capillaries, which reduce absorption (Rothbard 1997). Other pollutants may influence the bronchial blood vessels so that absorption through the mucosa is reduced, or they may affect the circulatory blood system more generally so that the distribution of an absorbed compound is retarded (Harrop, 2002). Air pollution causes leaf injuries. Sulfur dioxide and Oxides of Nitrogen are potentially harmful to plants. They can enter the plants through the stomata and cause severe damage to crops. Excessive exposure of leaves to these chemicals also destroys the wax, which prevents excessive loss of water and as protection against harmful microorganisms.

EPA

The Environmental protection agency is a body that is involved in enacting environmental policies that aim at controlling the number of toxic substances released in the atmosphere. This agency is well known for the clean air act that reiterates the importance of quality air to enhance healthy living.

The Cost of the Problem

Better quality fuels are advantageous because they are good for enhancing better air quality. Thus, fuels that are low in sulfur quantity emit less sulfur dioxide in the air. This works as an efficient way of controlling the levels of air pollution in the atmosphere. Vehicle emission testing can also be an effective strategy for controlling the levels of air pollutants in the atmosphere.

Air pollution has caused many other problems in the environment. Most of these problems are as a result of chain reactions in which the end result can be traced back to excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Thus, carbon dioxide depletes the ozone layer, which is responsible for preventing ultraviolet rays from reaching the earth (Rao 1989). Air pollution leads to an increase in greenhouse gases, thereby causing global warming. The effects of global warming include the melting of ice caps. This can cause flooding downstream, thereby destroying buildings and a rise in sea level. When sea levels rise, new beaches may be formed.

Causes of the Problem

As has been discussed earlier, carbon dioxide is one of the most common pollutants of the atmosphere. Excessive amounts of this gas are actually produced by the use of coal-burning plants. This is because coal is a fossil fuel that contains carbon within its biochemical structure (European Centre for Environment and Health 2000). When burnt in the presence of atmospheric oxygen, the end product is carbon dioxide. Other fossil fuels include crude oil and petroleum products. Sulfur is also an element present in crude oil. When the oil undergoes combustion, it produces carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. When it rains, the rainwater mixes with these gases to form a combination of weak carbonic acid and sulfurous acid.

These acids are responsible for corroding man-made metallic structures and buildings. It is also worth noting that cigarette smoking also reduces the quality of atmospheric air. This also amounts to air pollution. Air pollution can also cause a kind of imbalance in the ecosystem. Thus, when plants are affected, and they die, the ecosystem is affected in such a way that there is a decrease in primary producers at the bottom of the food chain. This can cause a far-reaching effect on the organisms that are at a higher level of the food chain. This is just one of the many examples that attest to the fact that air pollution can cause an imbalance in the ecosystem.

Solutions

There are a number of measures that can act as effective solutions to these problems. The Clean Air Act was established to reduce and control the number of air pollutants released in the atmosphere. In the US, the Clean Air Act, which was amended in the year 1990, proposed trading of emissions (Rothbard 1997). Thus, the Act addresses issues such as acid rain, depletion of the ozone, and toxic air pollutants. This Act also guides in awarding permits to various organizations that are involved with activities that involve the emission of substances into the atmosphere.

Another viable solution is to produce more hybrid and electric vehicles. Hybrid vehicles are more fuel-efficient. They only use fuel when absolutely necessary. Their fuel efficiency results in a reduction of the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Electric cars are also quite efficient in using energy. On average, they use relatively low energy compared to other conventional vehicles.

Another way in which air pollution can be contained is through the implementation of controlled population growth. This is an effective solution since it has worked pretty well in some countries, such as China (Bertollinni 2004). It is not uncommon to find large cities with large populations emitting more toxic pollutants to the atmosphere. This is because there are more industries and more vehicles in use at any particular time.

In Japan, the government has enacted timetables that guide on the days its citizens can drive their cars. Thus, Japanese citizens can only drive cars on designated days. Air pollution can also be reduced by using alternative fuels. Examples of such fuels include geothermal energy, wind, and solar energy. Another creative way of reducing the level of pollutants in the atmosphere is telecommuting (Rothbard 1997). This acts to reduce the number of people traveling daily to and from work.

There are many environmental organizations that are involved in the regulation of air pollution. In Europe, for example, there is a European commission in charge of the environment. The policies of this commission include the enhancement of air quality. Thus, it controls the emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere (European commission, 2011).

Challenges

It is important for one to understand the challenges involved when one tries to reverse a process. Such challenges mainly emanate from the status quo because they are the biggest beneficiaries of the prevailing activities. Thus, many industrialized countries are reluctant to reduce the number of industries since these industries are their major economic activities. It is also difficult because such countries are the biggest financial contributors and controllers of many organizations that are involved in environmental activities. The answer, therefore, would only rest with an individual person to decide whether to use industrial products that are manufactured through industrial activities that add up to air pollution or switch to products that are manufactured by environmentally conscious firms.

Alternatives Approaches to Solving the Problem

There are a number of alternative approaches that can be employed to solve the problem of air pollution. Some of them include market incentives, lifestyle changes, and technological advances. This means that the introduction of carbon trading comes in handy to prevent air pollution (Bertollinni 2004). Planting more trees to act as carbon sinks is, therefore, one of the most appropriate means by which air pollution can be controlled. Lifestyle changes, as discussed above, are when people use recycled products and also when they reuse paper bags. Technological advances, therefore, enhance the use of fuel-efficient engines to reduce the number of toxic pollutants into the atmosphere (Rothbard 1997).

It is good to consider carpooling as one of the alternative ways of preventing air pollution. For those who own vehicles, they need to ensure that their vehicles are always in good condition. This ensures that the vehicles are efficient in the use of fuel, thereby causing them not to release excessive carbon monoxide. It is also important for one to save energy. Thus one can minimize the amount of natural gas used and also electricity. Wise people who are conscious of their environment should consider the use of recycled products.

It is also important to reuse paper and plastic bags because it reduces the workload and the environmental degradation that accompanies the process of manufacturing such products (Bertollinni 2004). There are also some simple things that people need not do in order to reduce air pollution. They include avoiding the use of firecrackers; however, happy one is. Also, water-based paints can be substituted with varnishes. Last but not least, it is good to use public transport, but if it is a must for one to use a private vehicle, then they should plan wisely. In such a situation, one can plan systematically in order to reduce air pollution.

Conclusion

Air pollution is the addition of foreign materials into the air. The foreign matter is usually of chemical and biological origin. Some of the common causes of air pollution are fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, among others. The most common diseases that air pollution causes include bronchitis lung and cancer. Heart diseases are also common to people who have been exposed to air pollution. It is important to enact policies that aim at controlling and preventing air pollution. Such policies include the use of alternative energy, the use of hybrid vehicles, the use of recycled products, and carbon trading.

Reference List

Agarwal, S. K. (2009). Air Pollution. New Delhi: APH Publishing Corporation

Bertollinni, R. (2004). Health Aspects of Air pollution. World Health Organisation. Web.

European Centre for Environment and Health (2000). Qualification of the Health Effects of Exposure to Air Pollution. EUR/ 10 /5026342. Web.

European Commission (2011). Environment. Web.

Harrop, O. (2002). Clay’s Library of Health and the Environment: Air Quality Assessment and Management: A Practical Guide. Abingdon: Taylor and Francis.

Rao. (1989). Air Pollution. New Delhi: PublisherTata McGraw-Hill Education.

Rothbard, M. (1997). Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution. The Logic Action Two. Pp. 121-170. ISBN 1 85898570 6.