One of the most discussed topics in the world- Air pollution. What is air pollution and why have it gained so much significance in today’s world. While discussing about air pollution it’s obvious that we discuss about its causes and consequences. We will take you through them.
Has pure, fresh, clean air become a dream? Does it now hurt as you breathe deeply in? It is air that is said to clear the mind and refreshes the senses. Was that what air was once upon a time? For those of us living in a city or town, the thought is unrealistic. It is so difficult to get a good satisfying breath amidst all the dust, smoke, and smells often ending up with a sniffle or a cough or a sneeze.
Why has this happened? Pollution, the word on the tip of everyone’s tongue is a very simplistic one worded explanation. But there is so much in that word. Today we will begin to discuss an aspect of pollution that affects everything and everyone. From ants to trees to humans to glaciers….We are talking of Air Pollution.
What is Air pollution?
Addition of harmful chemical, biological and/or particulate substances to the atmosphere creates air pollution. Both natural processes and man- made activities have contributed to this situation. But in these years it is increased human activity that is aggravating the situation.
The following is a list of causes of air pollution that is not exhaustive by any means:
- Natural causes
- Volcanic activity: Active volcanoes release a huge amount of gases like sulphur dioxide and ash. Sulphuric acid droplets in aerosol form remain in the atmosphere for many days and even few years. This kind of gaseous and particulate emission prevents solar radiation from reaching the earth surface, leading to reduced temperature of the atmosphere. This in turn affects the atmosphere’s circulatory patterns. Volcanic ash itself is gritty and corrosive in nature.
- Swamps and Marshes: Did you know that there are areas on the earth’s surface that generate a great volume of the gas Methane, which is toxic and flammable? Wetlands are waterlogged areas with less availability of oxygen. Living beings here use up Oxygen faster than it can be replenished creating an anaerobic or oxygen poor environment. Fermentation, a process by which some organisms break down essential foods, is encouraged in such an environment and here is the genesis of Methane. Methane is also a key in causing global warming in addition to carbon dioxide
- Forest fires: Sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide are just some of the poisonous gases formed during forest fires. A great deal of particulate matter is also produced mostly less than 2.5 micrometres, which are easily inhaled and cause respiratory diseases.
Though it is true that some pollution is caused by natural processes, these are not frequent and more of isolated incidents. It is a fact that Human activity is responsible for most of the pollution present.
- Fossil fuels
Coal, petroleum, Natural gas are used extensively for the production for energy in the form of heat and electricity. This energy is released when these are burned. Also released are various gases, particulate matter and ash which are the harmful end products which add to air pollution
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, demand for factories and industries have not diminished. Industries run on energy produced from fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, natural gas. Even in this modern age we are still using these basic fuels instead of depending on some more sustainable ones such as wind, water, or sunlight.
As by-products of manufacturing or refining, industries release many gases and noxious chemicals which should be ideally treated before any form of disposal. They add greatly to the degree of pollution
Transportation is the backbone of every economy. Cars, trucks, train, ships airplanes are always in use. These run on fuel and release the greatest amount of exhaust gases into the atmosphere.
Aerosols containing chlorofluorocarbons have been banned as they add to contamination. CFCs are also found in refrigerant coolers. And leak into the air as they age.
- Agricultural practices
Most chemicals like insecticides, ripening agents, pesticides weedicides and fertilizers are often sprayed on the farms. All the spray is not used up but carried away by the wind to adjacent areas polluting the air
- Increased Livestock
Funny but true! Cattle and other livestock are now said to be causing an increase in methane in the atmosphere with their natural digestive functions. But this doesn’t stop their rearing because of the huge economic factors behind this industry.
By itself deforestation does not cause air pollution but reduction in green cover on the earth surface is seen in many areas. Trees clean up the air to an extent. So less trees mean increased levels of toxic substances in the air.
- Radioactive waste
This is a very important factor in causing pollution because of the sheer increase in the number of nuclear plants. In order to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, we now turn to nuclear energy calling it clean. But there is radioactive waste that is produced which is difficult to dispose of.
Unnecessary and excessive use of diagnostic X-rays is a form of pollution
- Plastic waste disposal
A mind boggling puzzle! What do you do with all the plastic waste that is generated each day? This is non-biodegradable, which means it will not rot, melt or disappear. In cities and towns garbage dumps are an eyesore, above all a breeding ground for disease causing organisms.
If you thought burning all this plastic waste would be a solution, this leads to more trouble as by-products settle in the ground literally eliminating the fertility of the soil and poisonous fumes are released into the air.
- Air pollutants
- Sulphur dioxide
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Hydro carbons such as benzene, toluene and xylene
- Air borne particles
- Organic pollutants
Effects of Air pollution
The effects of contaminated air is seen in every aspect of life even on non-living things
- On a microscopic level , there is an increase of anaerobic organisms which tend to break down complex foods by fermentation adding to the pollutants in the atmosphere
- Plants are affected in their growth and reproduction, some pollutants interfere with the process of photosynthesis and cellular mutations have led to loss of many species.
- As oxygen levels in the air come down the same effect takes place in the water bodies leading to los of water plants and aquatic life.
- Corrosive nature of many pollutants lead corrode metals and surfaces of buildings
- Acid rain- a combination of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide with water vapour occurs. This then falls to the earth as rain causing the ground or water body it falls on to become acidic in nature . As acid is naturally corrosive in nature this leads to destruction of the surfaces of metal and concrete structures .
Effects of Air Pollution on human
- There has been a rise in respiratory diseases- asthma , allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung damage etc
- Deleterious effects on the nervous system- Headaches, Dizziness, Vomiting, breathlessness, neurobehavioral disorders
- Increase in cardio vascular diseases
- Severe Effects on fetus in pregnant women
- Decreased life spans
- Cancers affecting different parts of the body especially lungs, skin and gastric system.
Many studies have given the grim picture detailing the consequences of not taking air pollution seriously. The interesting fact of air contamination is that it is not localized to a place or city or country. Pollutants created in one area are easily transported to another country via wind and air circulation currents. This means no one or no country is isolated or fighting pollution alone. It is to be a team effort. There needs a global effort, where everyone should take responsibility for his carbon footprint. The onus of the burden cannot be dealt on the poorer countries or developed countries separately. We are all in together to bring the change.