Air pollution is a type of environmental pollution that is caused by the presence of a substance which has harmful effects. These substances may be gases, particles or biological molecules. Going into the depth of air pollution, the major factors contributing to the causes of air pollution are listed below :
- Particulate Matter
Air pollution is characterized by the presence of particulate matter in the air of the Earth’s atmosphere. These particles of soot and metals give smog its murky color. Fine particles pose the most serious threat to human health, as they can penetrate deep into the lungs.
- Poisonous Gas
Air pollution is also caused by the presence of poisonous gases in the air we breathe. Poisonous gases like Carbon dioxide (CO2), Carbon mono-oxide (CO), Sulfur oxides, Nitrogen oxides, etc are responsible for causing air pollution.
- Vehicle Emissions
The vehicle exhaust fumes in cities which contain different gases. This is the largest source of air pollution. Among these gases, carbon monoxide (CO) is the principal bearer of air pollution which is emitted from the exhaust of the vehicles. Vehicle emissions are another source of fossil fuel emissions. Private transportation accounts for about 10 percent of our carbon footprint, or the amount of carbon dioxide our lifestyle and activities contribute to the atmosphere, reports Carbon Footprint Ltd.
- Burning of Fossil Fuels
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that fossil-fuel-burning power plants provide almost two-thirds of the nation’s electricity needs. Fossil fuels include oil, natural gas, and coal. When these are burned, they release carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen and particulate matter into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels to produce energy releases a significant amount of greenhouse gases into the environment and hence cause the greenhouse effect. Thus, fossil fuels cause air pollution.
- Pollution from Air Conditioners
When the filter in the air conditioner is not changed regularly, it combines with air along with its dirt and pollutants leading to the pollution inside the house. This makes us breathe disease-causing this type of inside house air pollution.
- Dust & Dirt
Air Pollution from dust and dirt is also a popular air pollutant. Everyday labor in agricultural and construction industry lifts up dirt and dust that goes into the atmosphere leading to air pollution. Dust lifted from tractors in fields and also land clearing and general demolition in the construction field causes air pollution.
- Household Pollution
Household chemicals that are being used without proper ventilation is also a major source of indoor air pollution. This type of indoor air pollution is very harmful to babies and infants.
- Natural Processes
Natural processes can also contribute to the effects of air pollution. Natural events such as volcanoes and tornadoes can prompt debris which causes widespread air pollution. Natural erosion of rock and soils releases toxins such as radon into the air. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Forests act as a sink for carbon dioxide through a process called carbon sequestration. Trees store carbon dioxide in their plant tissue as they take in this gas to undergo food-making. When these forests are burned and destroyed, this storage area for carbon dioxide is removed, increasing the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The abundance of these gases causes global warming that results in air pollution.
The industry is a major contributor to air pollution. Industrial processes release pollutants such as nitrous oxide, sulfur oxides, and hydrofluorocarbons into the air. Agricultural practices such as livestock rearing and landfills also contribute to atmospheric methane concentrations. The overall effect is an increase in the global warming potential and thus pollute the air.
- Wood Fires
Wood fires also cause air pollution by releasing particulate matter into the air. These particles can become deposited in our respiratory system, causing irritation to tissues. The particles can also aggravate existing health conditions such as asthma, warns the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
We are still at risk of the dangers of smoking even if we are a nonsmoker. The University of Minnesota estimates that up to 90 percent of the American population is routinely exposed to secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains 40 carcinogens, making it an especially lethal form of air pollution.
- Air Pollution, M N Rao & H V N Rao, Tata McGraw-Hill, 2007.
- Air Pollution: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in partnership with the Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland.
- World Health Organization. Air Pollution. WHO, Geneva, 1961
- Turk J and Turk A. Environmental sciences. 4th edition, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1992.
Nargis Akter Shapna
Soil and Environmental Sciences
University of Barisal, Bangladesh