Air Pollution Facts: You Breathe It, You Should Know About It
Car emissions, chemicals, ozone. Just a few of the many contaminates that are polluting our precious air. Air pollution is the most talked about type of pollution because it is currently the most dangerous form of pollution. Many people have seen the effects of pollutants in the air and everyone is always talking about carbon emissions but there is more to the air than carbon dioxide. Here, you will find all the air pollution facts as well as some ways to prevent air pollution in your daily lives.
First off, what is air pollution? Air pollution occurs when harmful substances are introduced into Earth’s atmosphere. This specific type of pollution can lead to the harm of basically any living thing. Plants, animals, ecosystems, and of course, humans.
The substances that pollute our air are both manmade and occur naturally. But as you know, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. The Earth has a natural balance and once that balance is affected, everything is affected.
Now of course you may be thinking, “I breathe the air all day and I am perfectly healthy.” Well, it is the same as water and land pollution. It is all about the amount of pollution in a given area. Take carbon dioxide for instance. It is always present in the air around you, however the typical concentration of this gas is less than 0.05% and you can breathe it with no harmful effects. But air with a higher concentration of this gas, like 5-10%, makes the air toxic and deadly.
Types of Air Pollution
A little known air pollution facts is that there are two different types of air pollution. Indoor and outdoor. Now, of course the indoor pollutants also affect outdoor pollution, unless your home is air tight. Indoor pollution involved exposures to particulates, carbon oxides, and many other pollutants which are carried by the indoor air and even dust. The causes of some of these contaminants are from: household products and chemicals, like aerosols and cleaning products, building materials like asbestos, formaldehyde and lead, insects and animal waste, tobacco smoke, and mold and pollen.
As for outdoor pollution, this has many causes. For example: the burning of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum, noxious gases like sulfur dioxide, ground level ozone gas, and, again, tobacco smoke.
To understand the air pollution facts, you have to know what kinds of things pollute the air. An air pollutant is something that can have adverse effects on humans and the environment. They can come in the form of solids, liquids and most commonly gases. Most pollutants occur naturally but are emitted into the atmosphere by human activity. Here is a list of air pollutants.
- Carbon Dioxide
- This is the leading contributor to air pollution because of its role as a greenhouse gas. It is a natural occurring gas and is actually essential to plant life and in turn, human life. Plants and trees absorb CO2 and release oxygen through photosynthesis. However, with the increased emission of this gas, the plants on Earth are unable to absorb it all and it begins to build in the atmosphere.
- Carbon Monoxide
- This is a colorless and odorless toxic gas. It is emitted from vehicle exhaust
- Sulfur Dioxide
- This is produced by volcanoes and many industrial processes like the burning of coal and petroleum.
- Nitrogen Dioxide
- This is produced from high temperature combustions and by electrical discharge from storms. This pollutant can be visibly seen in the form of smog, a brown haze above cities.
- Volatile Organic Compounds
- The greenhouse gas, methane, falls under this category and is one of the most well-known contributors to global warming. Other hydrocarbons are also in this category. They are also significant greenhouse gases because they help build the ozone and prolong the life of methane gas in the atmosphere.
- These are tiny particles of solid or liquids, suspended in a gas. Many of these particulates occur naturally from volcanoes, dust storms, forest fires, vegetation and even sea spray. Others are created from human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.
- Toxic Metals
- Lead and mercury especially. These are dangerous in high concentrations in any environment, water, soil or air.
- These are very damaging to the ozone layer. Almost all products containing this gas are banned. They are released from air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosol sprays and other products.
- This gas is emitted from the agricultural process. Naturally, it contributes to the nutritional needs of land creatures and is also a building block for many pharmaceuticals. However, wide use of this chemical is both caustic and hazardous. It contributes to air pollution because it reacts with the oxides of nitrogen and sulfur to form other particles.
- From garbage, sewage and other industrial processes.
- Radioactive Pollutants
- Basically created from any nuclear activity. Explosions mostly, but also naturally from the decay of the chemical radon.
Causes of Air Pollution
An important category in air pollution facts is the causes. We all know cars and other vehicles are huge contributors to air pollution by emitting immense amounts of carbon dioxide. But what other causes are there? Not talking about the chemicals involved in polluting the air, but rather the sources of those chemicals. And yes, there are natural causes of pollution as well.
Causes by Human Activities
It is no surprise that part of the air pollution facts is human activities and their contribution. Obviously, combustion of any kind will release certain gases and chemicals into the atmosphere. Hence why the combustion of fossil fuels is the leading cause of air pollution. However, there is other places that use combustion of some sort or another. Industrial plants. Almost all of the common air pollutants can be produced by industrial processes. Some of these pollutants can be the production of, of course, fossil fuels, which power the industrial process. This results in creating particulates, ozone gas and nitrogen oxides.
Agriculture is another big contributor to air pollution. From pesticides and fertilizers to animal waste, many chemicals and gases are released into the atmosphere during farm production. Farmers drive heavy machinery using fossil fuels. Pesticides release harmful chemicals into the air and the soil, which can run off into nearby waters also. Animals produce the gas, methane, which is a greenhouse gas. It arises from intestinal gas which is released by the livestock.
Some air pollutants can also come from your home. The heating of your home, most likely is generated by fossil fuels. Even if it is generated by electricity, the energy plants which generate your electricity use fossil fuels, so it is a lose, lose. The same goes for home cooking. In addition, other home products that are sources of air pollutants are aerosols and CFCs. However, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were banned back in 1995, but the chemical can last in the atmosphere for a century, continuously doing damage.
Natural Causes of Air Pollution
A common overlooked category in air pollution facts is the natural causes of pollution. The Earth produces some pollution naturally, as a byproduct of the natural cycle. The Earth also has system in place to deal with the amount of pollution which is produced by itself. However, of course, human activities have exceeded the limit that the Earth can deal with. Thus we have global warming.
Volcano eruptions are one of the natural causes of air pollution. Eruptions release sulfur dioxide, which is a major pollutant. Forest fires are another cause, as the burning of wood can release carbon dioxide and monoxide. While burning wood in camp fires and fireplaces does not release significant amounts of pollutants to be harmful, some forest fires can rage on for days and engulf large areas in flame.
Air Pollution Facts
The air pollution facts are incredible. You often can not see the pollution, or smell it, but it can still kill you. Here are some facts about air pollution that you should be aware of.
- Air pollution is linked to 40,000 deaths a year in the UK.
- It is one of the world’s biggest killers. Breathing in air pollution can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. It can also worsen asthma symptoms and cause lung cancer.
- Air pollution is the 4th largest threat to human health, behind high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking.
- In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths worldwide were recorded due to air pollution related diseases, according WHO data. That is just over 11% of all global deaths, more than the number of people killed by HIV, tuberculosis and road accidents.
- Some air pollution facts statistics, 94% of the deaths occur in low and middle income countries. More than 1 million deaths occurred in china and 600,000 in India, in 2012.The worst countries for deaths are in Eastern Europe. The Ukraine had 120 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.
- The biggest regional danger spots on Earth are parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, India, China, and the Middle East.
- Children are the most vulnerable to air pollution. The pollutants can hinder the lung development in children.
- A child born today, might not breathe clean air until they are eight years old. Most areas of the UK are breaking EU limits on air pollution.
- Sitting in your car will not protect you from pollution. In fact, you can be exposed to 8 times as much pollution as a cyclist on the road. (use the recycled air setting on your AC when sitting in heavy traffic, so your car does not suck in any outside air.)
- About 11 million cars were designed to cheat air pollution tests. The common understanding is that diesel cars produce more pollution than regular cars. However, we did not know just how much. Some of the cars showed to emit up to 12 times more pollution on the road than in the laboratory tests. Actually, in 2015, Volkswagon was caught using software programs to cheat emission tests. They were programmed to emit less in the laboratory tests than on the road.
- There has been an increase in the use of electric cars. In the past 4 years, the number of registered electric cars in the UK has increased by about 27%. By the end of 2016, more than 35,000 electric cars has been registered over the course of a year. This was the highest number ever, averaging over 3,000 per month.
- There are about 12 million diesel cars on the roads in UK. Diesel cars represent about 40% of new car sales. This is because, while the cost of diesel is more expensive than regular gas, those cars get far better mileage than gas cars.
- 225 billion U.S. dollars. That is the annual, global cost on air pollution.
- If you see an orange haze in the air, that is nitrogen dioxide, and that is toxic. It often gets worse the closer you are to road traffic. It can inflame the lung's lining and reduces your immunity to lung infections like bronchitis.
- If you are a jogger, this is important, it is important even if you are not a jogger even. The time of day is important to pay attention to when thinking about air quality. Early morning is usually much better than late afternoon. This is because less people are driving at that time of day. Around 5 and 6 is when everyone gets off work. Air quality is horrible and you should not go jogging during this time. In fact, joggers inhale more pollutants than those walking the same distance.
- Speaking about air quality, here are some places that air quality is not the best. Gym air is downright awful, not to mention smelly. Also, the air in your own home is likely the worst. This is because of all the appliances being used inside your home, along with if your home has a working fireplace and gas heat and range.
- One of the air pollution facts actually links to land and water pollution as well. BPA is not just polluting our land and our bodies, it is also polluting our air.
- Air pollution is linked to attention problems. Yup, pollution could be a factor in attention deficit disorders. Studies have been made to study the effects of young children in heavily polluted environments. The result? Unborn children exposed to high levels of pollution from car exhausts are 5 times more likely to develop an attention disorder by age 9.
- Pollution is even affecting the Sistine Chapel. With the amount of visitors the chapel gets, the amount of carbon dioxide has caused the frescoes to whiten. Imagine what it could do to other structures.
- An interesting part of air pollution facts. Air pollution makes you look old. Polluted air can contain over 200 chemicals that can age skin. This becomes an issue in larger cities with more pollutants. In a study done to test this theory, over 200 urban and rural women between the ages of 30 and 45, found pollution from city life added as much as 10% to their perceived aging.
Air Pollution Solutions
Now that you have a lot of the air pollution facts, you need to know that you do not have to be a big company or have political ties to do something about pollution. For example, buying electric cars or alternative fuel cars will lessen the amount of carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere. Another great thing that everyone can do has to do with your personal energy use. To get away from fossil fuels, making use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind is an amazing thing to do. And right now, it is more affordable than ever. Some government entities are even offering incentives and reimbursements to install solar panels in your home.
For other solutions and facts on other types of pollution or pollution related topics, check out the rest of Green and Growing.