Our air is getting increasingly harder to breathe because of air pollution. You’re probably already aware that air pollution comes from chemicals or particles in the atmosphere which can be harmful to the health of all life forms on earth. What you may not know is all of the different ways we pollute the air and that they’re typically separated into two categories: outdoor air pollution and indoor air pollution. Can you guess which harms us the most?
Air pollution is most common in large cities like Los Angeles, London, and Hong Kong, where emissions from various sources are concentrated. Sometimes, mountains or tall buildings stop air pollution from dispersing and frequently appears as a low-level cloud, known as smog, which makes the air murky.
People can react differently to different kinds of air pollution. It can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea or lead to illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis. Additionally, they can lead to irritation of the nose, eyes, throat, or skin. Young children and the elderly, whose immune systems tend to be poorer, are often more prone to getting sick from contamination.
Some more serious effects can last for decades or for an entire lifetime and even result in a person’s death. Long-term health effects include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory ailments such as emphysema. Many times damage to the nerves, kidneys, brain, liver, and other organs can be traced back to air pollution. It’s estimated that over 6 million deaths in 2016 were linked to poor breathing conditions.
Outdoor Air Pollution
Outdoor air pollution is usually caused by emissions from vehicles and solid fuel burning for electricity generation (coal and oil). Other pollution sources include smoke from wildfires, windblown dust, and biogenic emissions from plants (pollen and mold spores).
The most frequent pollutants of outdoor air include:
Particulate matter, also called particle pollution, is a term that describes exceptionally small, solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in air. It can come from just about any substance including nitrates, sulfates, natural chemicals, metals, dirt or dust particles, and allergens (such as pollen or mold spores). Nearly all particle pollution comes from motor vehicles, wood-burning heaters, and fossil fuel industries. During wildfires or dust storms, particle pollution may reach extremely dangerous levels of concentration.
Ozone is a combination of three oxygen atoms. Two joined oxygen molecules form the basic oxygen molecule O₂. The additional third atom makes ozone an unstable and highly reactive gas. It can be found in two regions of the Earth’s atmosphere: at the upper atmosphere and at ground level. In the upper atmosphere, ozone protects us by filtering out harmful ultraviolet radiation from sunlight.
Conversely, ozone at ground level is damaging to our health. Ground level ozone is the primary component of smog and is the product of the interaction between sun and emissions from sources such as motor vehicles and fossil fuel burning. It is more readily formed during the summer months and reaches its greatest concentrations in the day or early evening.
Ozone can travel long distances and accumulate to elevated concentrations far away from their origins. Ground level ozone can be harmful to our health even at reduced levels, including ozone made by ozone generators.
Nitrogen Oxides (NOₓ)
Nitrogen oxides are highly reactive gases formed by emissions from vehicles, fossil fuel industries,
Other indoor sources can be from cigarettes or from cooking with gas. Outdoors, nitrogen oxides can lead to the formation of ground-level ozone and breathing them can cause serious irritation and have many adverse effects on the respiratory system.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that forms when the carbon in fuels doesn’t burn fully. It’s generally formed by vehicles and fossil fuel industries but may also come from wildfires. Indoors, carbon monoxide stems from
Carbon monoxide levels are generally highest during cold weather since colder temperatures cause less complete combustion and trap pollutants near the ground.
Carbon monoxide causes detrimental health effects by decreasing the quantity of oxygen reaching the body’s organs and cells. At substantial enough levels, death from carbon monoxide poisoning can occur.
Carbon Dioxide (CO₂)
Carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It is a vital component in photosynthesis, the process by which plants make food and energy. Levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have increased exponentially since the Industrial Revolution began. The main causes are deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal. As carbon dioxide levels have grown, so have its effects on air pollution. Naturally, carbon dioxide should account for less than 1 percent of the atmospheric gases. The concern over carbon dioxide is the substantial increase over a relatively brief period of time.
Carbon dioxide traps radiation at ground level, contributing to ground-level ozone. This insulating layer prevents the earth from cooling at night. One effect is the warming of ocean waters. Oceans normally absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere however, higher water temperatures compromise the oceans’ ability to absorb it. Having nowhere to go, over time, the effects of carbon dioxide are compounded.
Sulfur dioxide (SO₂)
Sulfur dioxide is a highly reactive gas with a pungent and irritating smell much like a burnt match. It’s formed by burning fossil fuels in power plants and other industrial centers.
Natural processes that discharge sulfur gases include decomposition and combustion of organic matter, spray from the sea, and volcanic eruptions. It contributes to the creation of particulate matter pollution and acid rain. Sulfur dioxide irritates the mucous membranes of the nose, lungs, and throat and might worsen existing respiratory ailments, particularly asthma. It’s also been proven to aggravate cardiovascular diseases.
Indoor Air Pollution
Generally, when we think of air pollution we picture smoke from big factories or car exhaust but there are many more sources of indoor air pollution. Although we spend about 65% of our time indoors, we typically don’t consider our buildings and homes as having air quality issues since we don’t have plumes of smoke coming from our vents or floorboards. However, the EPA and Congress declared indoor air pollution as America’s number one environmental health issue and on average it’s four to five times worse than outdoor air. In some cases, it can be even greater.
Insufficient ventilation allows indoor pollutants to accumulate to harmful levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute and remove emissions from indoor sources.
There are several sources of indoor air pollution in any home. These include combustion sources like oil, gasoline, kerosene, coal, timber, and tobacco goods; construction materials and furnishings which discharge particles as they deteriorate such as asbestos-containing insulation, off-gassing or wet carpeting (esp. Bath mats), and cabinetry or furniture made of pressed wood products; goods for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies; pet odors and dander; central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; and outside sources like radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution.
Preventing Air Pollution
1. Minimize car use
Drive less by combining trips, telecommuting, carpooling, or carsharing. A fantastic idea would be to bring your lunch to work, so you don’t need to push throughout the lunch break, or talk with your co-workers about going to have lunch together. The best way to keep the atmosphere clean is to refrain from driving your car whenever you can.
2. Walk, bicycle or use public transportation
For those who have the choice, take public transportation to work. Many cities have invested in a public transportation network and by using it, even only a few times every week, you’re helping to decrease the number of cars on the street. Walking or riding a bicycle for work has many advantages for your health. You are able to take less heavily traveled streets and backroads to arrive at work earlier and less stressed than you’d be if trapped in traffic. Both these actions also contribute to keeping an active lifestyle and enhancing your wellbeing.
3. Change to renewable energy
This is among the greatest options for combating air pollution. Non- renewable energy resources create air pollution. Using any form of electricity that comes from the grid relies on the burning of fossil fuels and generates harmful gases which contribute to air pollution. On the flip side, renewable energy resources create electricity without causing air pollution. Therefore, the usage of renewable energy ought to be improved and encouraged.
4. Maintain your wood stove and chimney
If you have a wood burning stove or a fireplace, make sure you keep it well-maintained. Incomplete combustion often releases particulate matter. These minuscule particles are the most damaging to our respiratory tracts since they are easily able to get deep into our lungs and bloodstream.
5. Stop using plastic
We ought to control our dependence on plastic as it causes air pollution through their production and result in a great deal of harm to our environment. All of us can make individual efforts towards preventing air pollution by replacing plastic bags with paper or reusable bags, plastic
6. Consume less & use sustainable products
A 2017 study pointed out that 22 percent of premature deaths caused by air pollution happened in nations that create inexpensive goods for export. Thus, our consumption patterns affect pollution levels around the globe. Even if you’ve never traveled to China, your choice of products will determine whether you promote polluting companies around the world.
7. Eat organic produce & less meat
In places with heavily farmed lands, agriculture is the main emitter of ammonia as well as other nitrogen-containing compounds like nitrous oxide or nitric oxide. Agricultural fertilizers and pesticides discharge persistent organic pollutants, such as hexachlorobenzene, hexachlorocyclohexane, and pentachlorophenol from the air. Livestock farming also emits high concentrations of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and non-methane volatile organic compounds.
8. Grow your own food
It’s no big deal to get produce from all over the world nowadays. A simple trip to the grocery store gives you access to a vast selection of exotic fruits, vegetables, and spices. Although having such a great diversity is wonderful, it most certainly comes with a cost – in this instance the cost of polluting the air through long-distance transport.
9. Plant trees
If we want to prevent air pollution we need to protect our trees. We ought to grow more trees than we cut down. Reforestation and afforestation should also be encouraged. While reforestation will help in restoring forests on land that already had trees on it, afforestation can help grow a forest on land which there have never been any trees. Planting trees near the industrial regions also
10. Raise awareness
Creating awareness for air pollution is among the most influential things you can do. If more people remain aware of air pollution, its causes, and dangerous consequences, they will surely make individual efforts to combat and protect against air pollution.
11. Keep indoor air-purifying plants
Lots of houseplants have the exact same capability as trees to purify air pollutants and refresh air by replenishing oxygen levels. Plants with big leaves that come from the tropics and rainforests are especially effective in doing so.
12. Circulate Fresh Air
Opening your windows fully at least once every day for a few minutes can remove stagnant and polluted indoor air with fresh outdoor air.
It is crucial to let the air in your home circulate even for brief periods of time because this will allow accumulated toxins out and decrease humidity which gathers from indoor activities like cooking, doing laundry or showering. If needed, use a dehumidifier to decrease the humidity level of your house.
13. Use handcrafted goods
Handcrafted items are environmentally friendly and help lessen any additional air pollution. These goods are created manually and don’t require processing through factories or industries, reducing the chance of harmful emissions being released during their production.
14. Use essential oils
Essential oils are powerful plant extracts which can be used for several purposes including purifying and freshening indoor air quality. They also offer an eco-friendly, wholesome, and often more effective solution to many artificial and chemical products.
Using high-quality essential oils in a diffuser is not only going to produce a wonderful scent throughout your home but you will also gain many health advantages from the intricate all-natural compounds that the essential oils contain.
15. Test your home for radon
Radon is an invisible, odorless and radioactive gas that seeps up from the ground. It’s a byproduct that occurs naturally from the radioactive decay of uranium, which is found in all rocks on earth.
Less than 1% of the air in most homes comes from seepage through its foundation. But if your home is built on extremely permeable soil and the foundation is cracked or not properly sealed, then more than 10% of the air in your home can come through the floor. This can result in high accumulations of radon in your home.
16. Smoke Outdoors
Don’t smoke inside. Cigarette smoke contains up to 70 carcinogenic substances and toxins which remain in the indoor air for a long time.
17. Vacuum with a HEPA or ULPA filter
Some vacuum cleaners without proper filters can contribute to indoor air pollution. They allow some particles to leak back into the air and just end up stirring and redistributing pollutants.
18. Use air purifiers
If you reside in a place with poor outdoor air quality, then it’s well worth using air purifiers in your home. On days when health warnings are issued, you need to keep your windows closed and use air purifiers to lessen the chance of breathing contaminated air.