Air pollution can be best defined as an introduction of hazardous substances such as particulates as well as biological molecules into the atmosphere of the earth. It leads to causing infections, allergies, deaths and even death in human beings and other living organisms such as food crops and animals. Both natural processes and human activities are responsible for the production of air pollution. The Blacksmith Institute reported that poor air urban quality and the indoor air pollution are the two worst toxic issues in 2008 World’s Worst Polluted Places report. In 2014, WHO published their report which clearly states that air pollution has been the cause of deaths of 7 million people across the world.
All you need to know about Air Pollution
What are the causes of air pollution?
Pollutants present in the air are not always visible and they may come from various sources. The most obvious form of air pollution is the smog that hangs over cities all round the year. But there are other types of air pollution as well, some are visible while others can’t be seen and all of them contribute to global warming. Generally, any substance that is artificially introduced into the atmosphere having damaging effects on living things and the environment as a whole is called air pollution.
What are the different types of air pollutants?
Several divisions can be made in order to help understand the causes of air pollution. Primarily, air pollutants can be caused by both primary as well as secondary sources. The pollutants which are direct results of any process can be termed as primary pollutants. A notable example of primary pollutant is sulfur dioxide coming from factories.
Secondary pollutants are caused by intermingling as well as reactions between primary pollutants. Smog can be called a secondary pollutant which is caused by the intermingling of different primary pollutants like smoke and fog.
What are the leading air pollutants?
Carbon dioxide, which is the leading greenhouse gases is the primary pollutant that warms the earth continuously. Though all living organisms breathe out carbon dioxide in the process of respiration, it is considered a major pollutant when related to planes, cars and power plants and any human activities which involve burning fossil fuel like natural gas and gasoline. In the last millennium, unworthy human activities have raised the carbon dioxide level to a degree which is higher than what existed in remote past.
Other greenhouse gases that contributes to air pollution include methane which arises from sources like gas and swamps emitted by livestock and also CFCs which are used in the aerosol propellants and refrigerators until their usage was limited.
Sulfur dioxide is yet another pollutant which is associated with a change of climatic conditions. This component of smog leads to acid rain. But sulfur also reflects light when they move freely in the atmosphere which keeps off sunlight and allows the earth to cool down. Volcanic eruptions also pour out huge amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere which makes it difficult to cool down. In previous times, volcanoes were the number one cause of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere but recently, human activities have taken its position.
What are the effects of air pollution?
Air pollution can lead to devastating outcomes which would affect all strata of our lives. Some of the most significant effects of air pollution include:
- Cardiopulmonary diseases: The effects of air pollution are known to create various respiratory and cardiac problems which may be fatally dangerous for human beings. It has been reported that millions of people have died as a result of direct as well as indirect effects of air pollution. Children who are exposed to air pollution for a long time may suffer from asthma and pneumonia.
- Global warming: One of the most direct effects of air pollution which the whole world is witnessing is global warming. The temperature is rising all over the world, the sea levels area also being raised, melting of ice from the colder regions of the planet and loss of habitat are the major effects of the impending disaster that is due on the planet.
- Acid rain: Harmful gases including sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere while the fossil fuels are burnt. The droplets of water combine with the air pollutants and the whole thing becomes acidic and falls on the ground in the form of acid rain. This acid rain can lead to damage of crops and may also affect the health of human beings and other living organisms.
- Ozone layer depletion: The stratosphere of the earth is filled with ozone gas which helps in protecting humans from the harmful UV rays. This ozone layer of the earth is depleting as a result of excessive amounts of hydro chlorofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. When the ozone layer is becoming thinner, it would emit back on the earth and may cause eye and skin problems in human beings. The harmful effects of ultraviolet rays are also known to affect crops as well.
How can air pollution be controlled?
Industrialized countries have been continuously working to diminish the levels of sulfur dioxide, smoke and smog for the improvement of people’s health. But in recent times it has been found that if sulfur levels are lowered, it could make global warming even worse. This is because sunlight is blocked by the sulfur layers which help in keeping the temperature of the earth cool and thus, if the sulfur level is diminished, global warming would increase significantly. This condition is made even worse when other greenhouse gases trap the heat and doesn’t allow it escaping back into the atmosphere.
Most scientists and researchers are of opinion that a wide variety of measures has to be taken in order to curb the problem of air pollution. We can take some steps on a personal front such as driving less, reducing the burning of fossil fuels, chlorofluorocarbons, and toxic materials so that the carbon footprint can be reduced. Carbon footprint is the carbon dioxide level given out in the environment by a person or a community as a whole.
The government is also taking steps on a large scale for limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. On November 4, 2016, 118 nations ratified on a voluntary agreement and named it Paris Agreement. This is one of the most significant efforts taken on a global level to combat the issues of air pollution and climatic change. Each nation in the agreement agreed to take steps for combatting the change in the climatic conditions by controlling air pollution.
The ultimate objective of the Paris Agreement is to keep down the post-industrial temperature rise below 2-degrees centigrade. This can be done by implementing high taxes on carbon emissions and gasoline consumption so that companies, as well as persons, are encouraged to conserve the environment and polluting less than usual.