What is Air Pollution?- Cause, Effects, and Solution

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is the contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. Household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities, and forest fires are common sources of air pollution.

Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Outdoor and indoor air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases and is an important source of morbidity and mortality.

Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that almost all of the global population (99%) breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures. WHO is supporting countries to address air pollution.

From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate. The combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause millions of premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections.

Air pollution is the presence of substances in the atmosphere that are harmful to the health of humans and other living beings, or cause damage to the climate or to materials.

What Causes Air Pollution?

Air pollution is caused by solid and liquid particles and certain gases that are suspended in the air. These particles and gases can come from car and truck exhaust, factories, dust, pollen, mold spores, volcanoes, and wildfires. The solid and liquid particles suspended in our air are called aerosols.

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“Most air pollution comes from energy use and production,” says John Walke, director of the Clean Air Project, part of the Climate and Clean Energy program at NRDC. “Burning fossil fuels releases gases and chemicals into the air.” And in an especially destructive feedback loop, air pollution not only contributes to climate change but is also exacerbated by it.

“Air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide and methane raises the earth’s temperature,” Walke says. “Another type of air pollution, smog, is then worsened by that increased heat, forming when the weather is warmer and there’s more ultraviolet radiation.”

Climate change also increases the production of allergenic air pollutants, including mold (thanks to damp conditions caused by extreme weather and increased flooding) and pollen (due to a longer pollen season).

“We’ve made progress over the last 50 years improving air quality in the United States thanks to the Clean Air Act,” says Kim Knowlton, senior scientist and deputy director of the NRDC Science Center. “But climate change will make it harder in the future to meet pollution standards, which are designed to protect health.”

Effects of Air pollution

Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. Air pollution can also cause long-term damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Some scientists suspect air pollutants cause birth defects.

Effects On Humans

People experience a wide range of health effects from being exposed to air pollution. Effects can be broken down into short-term effects and long-term effects.

Short-term effects, which are temporary, include illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis. They also include discomforts such as irritation to the nose, throat, eyes, or skin. Air pollution can also cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Bad smells made by factories, garbage, or sewer systems are considered air pollution, too. These odors are less serious but still unpleasant.

The long-term effects of air pollution can last for years or for an entire lifetime. They can even lead to a person’s death. Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. Air pollution can also cause long-term damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Some scientists suspect air pollutants cause birth defects. Nearly 2.5 million people die worldwide each year from the effects of outdoor or indoor air pollution.

People react differently to different types of air pollution. Young children and older adults, whose immune systems tend to be weaker, are often more sensitive to pollution. Conditions such as asthma, heart disease, and lung disease can be made worse by exposure to air pollution. The length of exposure and the amount and type of pollutants are also factors.

Effects On the Environment

Like people, animals, and plants, entire ecosystems can suffer effects from air pollution. Haze, like smog, is a visible type of air pollution that obscures shapes and colors. Hazy air pollution can even muffle sounds.

Air pollution particles eventually fall back to Earth. Air pollution can directly contaminate the surface of bodies of water and soil. This can kill crops or reduce their yield. It can kill young trees and other plants.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particles in the air can create acid rain when they mix with water and oxygen in the atmosphere. These air pollutants come mostly from coal-fired power plants and motor vehicles. When acid rain falls to Earth, it damages plants by changing soil composition; degrades water quality in rivers, lakes, and streams; damages crops; and can cause buildings and monuments to decay.

Like humans, animals can suffer health effects from exposure to air pollution. Birth defects, diseases, and lower reproductive rates have all been attributed to air pollution.

what is the solution of air pollution?

The most basic solution for air pollution is to move away from fossil fuels, replacing them with alternative energies like solar, wind, and geothermal. Producing clean energy is crucial. But equally important is to reduce our consumption of energy by adopting responsible habits and using more efficient devices.

Shifting to electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles, and promoting shared mobility (i.e carpooling, and public transports) could reduce air pollution. From planning to demolition, the green building aims to create environmentally responsible and resource-efficient structures to reduce their carbon footprint.

Actions You Can Take to Reduce Air Pollution

There are simple steps you can take in your everyday life to help improve air quality. Every time you drive to work or school, use your heater or air conditioner, clean your windows or even style your hair, you make choices that can reduce or increase air pollution.

On the road

In California, about half the air pollution comes from cars and trucks. Fewer trips in your car or truck can help improve air quality. Even how you drive can reduce your car’s footprint. Take these into consideration when you are traveling on California roads:

  • Walk or ride a bike when possible.
  • Take public transportation.
  • Organize and condense errands into one trip.
  • When driving, accelerate gradually and obey the speed limit.
  • Drive less, particularly on days with unhealthy air.
  • Maintain your vehicle and keep your tires properly inflated.
  • Support the Smog Check Program.
  • Report smoking vehicles to 1-800-END-SMOG.
  • Travel lightly and remove any unnecessary items that may weigh down your vehicle.
  • Limit idling your vehicle to no more than 30 seconds.
  • When in the market for a new car, look for the most efficient, lowest-polluting vehicle or even a zero-emission electric car.

At home

There are many ways air quality can be improved in the home. By reducing energy consumption, choosing sustainable products, and eliminating your exposure to chemicals, we can all contribute to a cleaner California.

Reducing energy consumption helps reduce air pollution. If less gasoline, natural gas, and electricity (power plants burn fossil fuels to generate electricity) are used, not only do your bills decrease but less pollutants are emitted.

There are also many products in the home, garden, and garage that emit smog-forming chemicals that pollute the air when used. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM) contained in these products penetrate deep into the lungs and can trigger asthma attacks or worsen respiratory illnesses. The suggestions below will help reduce exposure in your home:

  • Turn the lights off when you leave a room.
  • Replace energy-hungry incandescent lights with compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Ask your energy supplier for a home audit and inquire about alternative energy solutions like solar or wind.
  • Opt for a fan instead of air conditioning.
  • Use a programmable thermostat and set it to 78°F in the summer and 68°F in the winter.
  • Install low- ow shower heads.
  • Recycle paper, plastic, metals and organic materials.
  • Use an EPA-approved wood burning stove or replace insert.
  • Don’t use your wood stove or replace on days with unhealthy air.
  • Don’t heat your home with a gas stove.
  • Use a surge protector for multiple appliances and turn it off when products are not in use.
  • Add insulation to your home.
  • Wash laundry in cold water and line dry.
  • When ready to replace, look for energy star appliances.
  • Use a propane or natural gas barbecue rather than a charcoal one.
  • Microwave or use a toaster oven for small meals.
  • Have your gas appliances and heater regularly inspected and maintained?
  • Use washable dishes, utensils and fabric napkins rather than disposable dinnerware.
  • Choose products that use recycled materials.
  • Eat locally, shop at farmers markets and buy organic products.
  • Buy products from sustainable sources such as bamboo and hemp.
  • Use durable reusable grocery bags and keep them in your car so you’re never caught off guard.
  • Paint with a brush instead of a sprayer.
  • Store all solvents in airtight containers.
  • Use an electric or push lawn mower.
  • Use a rake or broom instead of a leaf blower.
  • Use water-based cleaning products that are labeled ‘zero VOC’.
  • Insulate your water heater and any accessible hot water pipes.
  • Eliminate use of toxic chemicals at home; opt for natural substitutes.
  • Plant a tree! They filter the air and provide shade.
  • Let your elected representatives know you support action for cleaner air.

At Work

There are multiple ways of reducing consumption at the workplace. Considering we spend a good portion of every week at the office, use the suggestions below to keep your workplace environmentally friendly:

  • Carpool.
  • Telecommute.
  • Start a recycling program.
  • Print and photocopy on both sides of paper.
  • Bring your lunch to work to avoid mid-day outings.
  • Turn off office equipment, computers, printers, and fax machines, after hours.
  • Harness the power of the sun: open the blinds and turn off the lights.
  • Dress for the weather and adjust layers before adjusting the thermostat.

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