When drawing a deep breath of fresh air, some people encounter an unpleasant greeting, as chemicals and other substances have tainted the cleanliness of their air, which may cause one to choke and cough. Across the globe, the issue of air pollution has become a hot topic, as scientists blame a large amount of deaths and respiratory disease on its widespread effects. Although enforced air quality standards (such as the Clean Air Act in the United States) have helped to reduce the presence of some pollutants, it is the responsibility of the entire world to follow prevention measures in order to help protect the future of the planet.
What is Air Pollution?
Air pollution is a chemical, physical or biological agent that alters the natural characteristics regarding the atmosphere . While the atmosphere is a multifaceted system of gas that all life on earth needs to survive, air pollution threatens its stability through stratospheric ozone depletion and other concerns. A host of major sources of pollution have been identified with the greatest source of emissions surrounding our automobiles. An assortment of gases, such as carbon dioxide, which helps make the global warming problem worse, is also a newly recognized culprit for air pollution.
Different Types of Air Pollution
To better understand air pollution prevention techniques, it is important to recognize the many different types that exist. This will help people to pinpoint the kind of action needed to tackle individual problems. The main types of air pollution include:
a) Gas Pollutants:
Air pollutants found in both indoor and outdoor environments often contain a mixture of vapors and gas. Some of the most common offenders of the air include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides and ozone .
b) Greenhouse Effect:
Many scientists blame global warming on the Greenhouse Effect, which is responsible for preventing the sun’s heat from rising out of the atmosphere and returning back to space. While a certain amount of green house gases are needed to warm the earth, human actions, such as the burning of fossil fuels, is affecting the gaseous layer, making it too dense to permit the escaping of heat. Additional gases, such as cholrofluorocarbons (CFC), methane, nitrous oxides, and ozone, also pose the same problem.
c) Acid Rain:
The nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide linked to the burning of coal oil in factories, power plants, and motor vehicles is responsible for the tainted moisture in the air. Eventually, the combination of varying chemicals takes place, which then falls back to the earth in the form of harmful precipitation or acid rain.
d) Ozone Layer Damage:
It is believed that the use of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) aids in the depletion of the ozone layer, which causes increased levels of UV radiation that greatly affects plants, animals, and humans.
e) Climate Changes:
Under normal conditions, air pollutants either rise or flow away from sources without creating an unsafe environment. Wind patterns, clouds, temperature, and rainfall often affect this process. Depending on the weather pattern, air pollution may become trapped in valleys and other environments about the world.
The Negative Effects of Air Pollution
The quality of air we take in is very important to promote longevity in life and sustaining overall health. Across the United States, there are many locations that suffer a serious air pollution problem, where ground-level ozone takes on the form of smog. Some types of air pollution possess the power to change the climate of the planet, while others simply add to the rate of global warming or slow down the cooling effect of the Earth for a few days or weeks .
Air pollutants are quite tricky and find many different ways to infiltrate the body. Some people consume food products contaminated by airborne toxins that seep into the soil that some products are grown in. Air pollutants often contaminate unfiltered drinking water. Some people also come in contact with air pollutants by simply touching soil, dust, or water that is contaminated .
According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that about 4.6 million people die each year from complications received through various levels of air pollution. Often, it is indoor air pollution that threatens health and safety, but overall air pollution is also related to the number of asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, lung diseases, heart diseases, and respiratory allergies plaguing the United States.
Contributing Factors of Air Pollution
The contributing factors of air pollution often come from two different sources: anthropogenic (human actions) and natural. Human factors that add to the possibility of air pollution include the smoke stacks of power plants; cars and other modes of transportation; marine vessels; oil refineries; farming chemicals; and military actions, including nuclear weapons, toxic gases, rockets, and germ warfare.
The burning of wood, whether it comes out of a fireplace, stove, furnace, or incinerator, also contributes to the air pollution problem. The use of products, such as hair spray, paint, varnish, and aerosol sprays are harmful to the atmosphere. The accumulation of waste in landfills adds to the generation of methane gas. Methane is also emitted by the digestion of food associated with some animals, such as cattle.
Commonly known natural sources of air pollution include the dust dancing about large plots of land where little or no vegetation thrives. Radon gas linked to radioactive decay takes place within the Earth’s crust. The outbreak of wildfires creates smoke and carbon monoxide, which affects air quality. Volcanoes also threaten the air supply, as active examples produce harmful sulfur, chlorine, and ash particulates.
While most people identify air pollution with the great outdoors, a lack of ventilation within an enclosed space contributes to the development of indoor air pollution . In certain locations, gases like radon become trapped inside houses. Building materials and common household products also promote this type of environment through carpeting, plywood, paint, solvents, lead paint, air fresheners, incenses, and controlled wood fires. Asbestos-containing home materials linger in the air and after long-term, heavy exposure, can cause several different types of lung cancer.
Carbon monoxide poisoning also takes place inside of the home, which has earned the nickname of the “silent killer” over the years. CO indoor air pollution often occurs through faulty vents, chimneys, poorly adjusted pilot lights, and inappropriate smoke inhalation. Additional indoor air pollution causes include pet dander, dust mites, cigarette smoke, mold, and lack of air circulation.
How to Prevent Air Pollution
While a variety of effective laws have been set for the regulation of air pollution, there are still plenty of things that people may do to prevent this type of pollution from getting out of hand. If you feel that individual preventive measures donâ€™t amount to anything, rest assured that every bit of effort adds to a collective energy to prevent air pollution.
Within the United States, between 1970 and 2006, citizens benefited from a significant reduction in yearly pollution emissions, as carbon monoxide emissions dropped from 197 million to 80 million tons. A little more than half of 31 million tons of sulfur dioxide emissions were cut down. A decrease in nitrogen oxide, lead, and particulate emissions was also seen.
Today, residents may also chip in to prevent and reduce air pollution by following a few of their own preventive measures. Below you will find a few suggestions:
a) Drive Less:
Cars and trucks are responsible for around half of the air pollution in the world. The best way to approach a reduction in vehicle-related air pollution is to drive less and exercise smart driving habits. One way to cut air pollution is to take fewer trips in a car or truck. Some people are reluctant to lessen their weekly driving because they feel they will be stuck in the house with no where to go.
However, there are many different ways to embrace the combination of alternative modes of transportation with a modified driving routine. Acceptable options may include carpooling, walking, riding a bike, shopping by phone or mail, riding public transportation, and telecommuting.
b) Smart Driving Practices:
The way that you control and maintain your car or truck helps prevent air pollution. A driver should gradually accelerate or use cruise control when traveling on the highway. It is suggested to avoid topping off at the gas station. Tires should highlight proper inflation.
Cars should undergo regular tune-ups that pass local smog checking programs. A car that creates smoke should have the problem immediately fixed to prevent further contamination of the air. When taking the car out for a spin, you should limit the amount of time on the road by combining most of your errands into one trip. As you move from one place to another, obeying the speed limit is suggested.
c) New Car Purchases:
The next car that you bring into your household could highlight the most efficient and lowest polluting model on the assembly line. Today, consumers can choose from a non-polluting vehicle or one that produces zero emissions. To identify possible clean and fuel efficient selections, a list of suggested vehicles are found through the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities website; the DOE/EPA Fuel Economy guide; and the EPA’s Green Vehicle guide. When traveling in a car on days where unhealthy air is a problem, driving the newest automobile does the most good. The most up-to-date vehicles typically cause less pollution than older models .
d) Select Air-Friendly Products:
The home, yard, and office are common places where products containing harmful smog-forming chemicals are used. Preventing this type of air pollution is achieved by selecting water-based products or items that possess low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When painting, you should choose water-based paints with labels containing the words, “zero-VOC.” Instead of using a sprayer (which increases the spread of harmful chemicals), painting with a brush is suggested. When storing solvents, airtight containers help contain the product to prevent leaks and spills. When mowing the lawn, ignore gas-powered models and purchase a push or electric lawn mower.
e) Save Energy:
A reduction in air pollution also comes when individuals make a strong effort to save energy. Whenever fossil fuel is burned, air pollution takes place. This means using less gasoline, natural gas, and electricity (that comes from burning power plant materials) greatly helps. Individuals may transform careless and wasteful habits by implementing a few changes in their household behaviors. This may include turning off lights when leaving a room; replacing incandescent lights with fluorescent lighting; and purchasing energy-saving appliances.
You may also set your thermostat to automatically turn off the heater or air conditioner when you no longer need them in an effort to conserve energy. When possible, use a fan instead of an air conditioner during the summertime. Instead of turning on the oven for minute tasks, heat smaller meals in the microwave. In the bathroom, low-flow showerheads save energy. Instead of turning on the dryer after each wash, clothes may dry on a clothesline when weather permits.
f) Reduce Waste:
A great amount of energy goes into the making and selling of everyday products. Preventing additional air pollution occurs when we lower the amount of energy we use, which in turn, helps to also save money. Individuals may choose recycled products; select items with recyclable packaging; reuse paper bag; use both sides of print and photocopy paper; and follow local recycling regulations pertaining to paper, plastics, and metals.
g) Donâ€™t Forget the Small Stuff: The amount of air pollution one comes in contact with on a daily basis includes the tiny particles of dust, soot, and acid droplets that often get caught in the lungs. As these particles continue to accumulate and affect the lungs, more problems arise, such as an increase in asthma attacks, bronchial and other lung diseases. A decrease in resistance to infections, as well as early death in the elderly and sick often takes place. Nonetheless, humans can still do their part to prevent air pollution.
On days of unhealthy air levels, one may avoid the use of wood stoves or fireplaces. Siding with rakes or using a broom when taking care of the exterior of the home helps when you bypass the use of leaf blowers and other kinds of equipment that raises a high amount of dust into the air. When traveling on unpaved roads, it is important to drive slowly. On days with unhealthy air levels, driving for shorter periods of time is highly suggested.
h) Prevent Indoor Pollution:
At least 80% of most people spend their time indoors, which supplies its own kind of harmful air pollution. Smokers send air pollution levels through the roof with their unhealthy habits; therefore sending them outside to do their “dirty” work is suggested. Limiting the amount of household products that contain harmful chemicals is also recommended. This includes cleaning agents, paints, and glues.
Ventilation is also required to lessen the amount of indoor air pollution. When cleaning, baking soda may work just as well as harsher chemical cleaners. Gas appliances and heaters should undergo regular inspections and maintenance. The inside of the home should be kept clean on a regular basis in order to eradicate dust and mold accumulation.
i) Support Clean Air Programs:
A reduction in air pollution also takes place when you support the programs geared towards your local levels. Some people write letters to their local newspaper when government action regarding healthy air is faltering. Speaking with elected officials is another way to put in a good word for clean air.