Along with the changing landscape due to modernization, even the air doesn’t feel like home to many citizens in the US. The key reason behind this is there is a rising pollution level in the environment.
The continuously degrading air quality has made air pollution one of the significant health concerns for US citizens. As a citizen of this country, you are probably not an alien to the numerous lawsuits imposed by environmental activists.
It is time that, as responsible citizens of this country, you take some steps to secure the tomorrow of future generations. But to bring about these changes and take small actions, you must understand pollution first. The journey of understanding this major environmental issue involves many aspects.
To begin with, you need to understand the causes of air pollution and how it affects you. Only then can you know what steps you can take to help make our planet healthier. So, if you are a curious changemaker, read this article to learn more.
- 1 What is Air Pollution?
- 2 Causes of Air Pollution
- 3 Effects of Air Pollution
- 4 Solving the Air Pollution Crisis
- 5 Bottom Line
What is Air Pollution?
Air pollution refers to the contamination of the air due to unwanted levels of substances that degrade its quality. These pollutants can be chemical or biological in nature.
The natural sources of air pollution can be forest fires or volcanic eruptions. At the same time, man-made causes consist of industrial, ignitable, and locomotive gases. Some of these gases are sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.
Most man-made emissions are greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, which increase the earth’s temperature. Eventually, the rising level of air pollution leads to global warming.
Not only gases but toxic physical substances called particulate matter degrade air quality. According to WHO guidelines, most of the population worldwide breathes air that exceeds healthy limits. Consequently, all these harmful gaseous and particulate matters give rise to many serious health issues.
Broadly, there are two kinds of air pollutants:
These are contaminants that directly contribute to air pollution. For example – the emission of harmful gases from factories and industries. These pollutants are NOx, SOx, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, etc.
Secondary pollutants are air contaminants formed due to intermixing of primary pollutants. For example – smog. Handling and controlling secondary pollutants can be challenging. This is because they react in unpredictable ways.
Causes of Air Pollution
As mentioned earlier, a significant segment of air pollution is due to human activities. Some of these are:
Many farmers burn the crops after the season is over. They do this to enhance soil quality and empty the field to prepare for the next crop. This leads to the release of harmful gases and particles of ash into the air, leading to pollution.
Moreover, the production and use of nitrogen-based fertilizers release greenhouse gases like ammonia. This degrades the quality of air considerably. Even pesticides and insecticides are sprayed in gaseous forms, increasing the air’s toxicity.
Human lifestyle practices
In order to survive daily, humans are majorly dependent on the use of fossil fuels in one way or another. We burn energy for our electrical needs while running our households or vehicles. This releases toxic gases into the environment.
Similarly, the building of a house also causes air pollution. The construction particles contaminate the air, while painting releases toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.
Industrial and Mining activities
Industries, power plants, and factories release toxic gases into the air, which are byproducts. Some of these gases are carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. These emissions disrupt the standard air quality and pollute nearby areas.
Mining activities emit minute particles into the air. These usually get mixed up with fog and remain suspended in the air. Eventually, when people breathe in this air, it reaches the lungs. Therefore, it can lead to overridable lung damage.
Apart from human activities, there are also some natural causes of air pollution. Besides forest fires and volcanic eruptions, nature has other ways of creating air pollutants. For example – methane produced by cattle as a byproduct of digestion is a greenhouse gas. Moreover, dust from naturally barren lands adds to the family of particulate matter pollution. Another latent form of air pollution is the emission of radon gas from natural radioactive decay.
Effects of Air Pollution
Lower air quality can lead to acute and prolonged health problems in humans.
Most of these health issues are concerned with respiratory or heart disorders. Some of these diseases can be severe, such as asthma COPD or emphysema.
However, exposure to air pollutants can generally give rise to physical problems on various levels. The health impact of the high level of short-term exposure can cause burning of the eyes, nausea, fatigue, dry throat, or difficulty breathing.
At the same time, long-term exposure can lead to health effects such as bronchitis or lung cancer. Apart from this, the overall functioning and lung capacity also suffer considerably. This increases strain on the heart, resulting in cardiac ailments.
The impact of high pollution levels is significant in specific populations, such as:
- Sick, elderly, or children.
- Construction, mining, and factory workers
- Pregnant women
- Athletes or people living near industrial areas
The effects of air pollution are not only limited to human beings and animals but also extend to the earth’s ecosystem. While air pollution directly affects the earth through global warming, acid rain destroys our planet.
The phenomenon of rising water temperature due to greenhouse gases is known as global warming. A rise in the level of these gases in the atmosphere traps earth’s heat and prohibits it from escaping into space. Consequently, the temperature of the earth rises.
These gases are usually nitrous oxide, methane, HCFC, HFC, etc. However, carbon dioxide is the most significant contributor to global warming. Humans produce most energy by burning fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. This eventually leads to the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Acid rain is a phenomenon when natural rainfall water mixes with toxic chemicals in the air. These chemicals are usually nitrogen dioxide or sulfur dioxide. Consequently, there’s an imbalance in the rainwater’s pH levels. Thus, the toxic water reaching the earth degrades the quality of the soil and contaminates the water table. As a result of this, the crop and water quality go down. This eventually affects the health of humans, animals, and nature in general.
Solving the Air Pollution Crisis
If you are concerned about the state of the air we breathe, there are many things you can do to fix it. Just by making minor changes to your daily habits, you can make major contributions in the long run. In short, renewable energy is our friend, and we need to burn as less fossil fuel as possible.
For individuals, some of these solutions are:
- Use an alternative energy source for heating purposes. For example, use a ground or air source heating pump instead of a gas source counterpart.
- While disposing of waste, choose to compost instead of burning.
- Switch to vehicles that use natural gases as fuel. For example – CNG.
- Constantly repair your vehicles, so the admission of harmful gases is least. You can also consider replacing old equipment with more energy-efficient ones.
- When traveling, prefer modes of public transportation. You can also consider carpooling or riding a bicycle to work.
- Consider planting more trees. They absorb carbon dioxide and help in controlling global warming. Organize social events that involve planting saplings. Moreover, request schools to add tree planting as a part of the school curriculum.
At the industrial and organizational levels, some solutions are:
- Industries should treat gases before they are released into the air.
- The government should impose protocols and give incentives to improve air quality.
- NGOs and government campaigns should be launched to educate the population about air pollution. This will propel them towards better practices.
- Regular seminars and summits must be organized to spread awareness about actionable steps that help reduce pollution levels.
Additionally, the government is responsible for creating laws and promoting the use of renewable energy. The US government has collaborated with other parties to promote renewable energy and reduce air pollution. One such initiative is the Clean Air Act.
The earth is choking, trying to fulfill all our needs. The frenzy of consumption has subdued our capability to think. It might be too late to turn things around and make everything perfect. But this doesn’t mean we just sit and watch the earth die. The best we can do is try and make it better.
You can take many big and small steps to bring about improvements in air quality. If not for yourself, think about your grandchildren. Due to the increased air toxicity, the average age of human beings is decreasing, not to forget the diseases we have to deal with that eventually degrade the quality of life.
Therefore, it is time for everyone to switch to better practices. This holds whether you are an ordinary human being, an entrepreneur, or an industrialist. We all have to work together to help save the earth’s natural resources!