The Effects of Air Pollution

Author: Brianna Hang

Editors: Ken Saito and Liane Xu

Artist: Kaitlyn Stanton

The sky darkens as gray smog envelops the earth with its hazardous chemicals. Like a double-edged sword, the same air that gives life can bring suffocation and death. Air pollution is a mixture of solid, liquid, and some gaseous particles that permeate through the air. Natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions contribute to air pollution, but artificial emissions from sources such as factories and cars are among today’s biggest problems. Not only can air pollution damage plants and animals, but there are also serious health risks to humans, including lung disease and asthma. By understanding the causes, we can find the source of pollution and find ways to mitigate these pollutants’ severe consequences.

Air pollution can consist of various chemicals like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, etc., that can come from many sources. Emissions of cars, factories, homes, and cigarettes are just a few examples. Large cities with dense populations are more prone to air pollution because more energy is required for transportation and powering the city’s numerous buildings. Beijing and Los Angeles are two of the most polluted cities on Earth, with visible smog in the air. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of ten people breathe air containing dangerous levels of pollutants. Additionally, nearly 7 million people die every year from exposure to polluted air. Looking at these alarming numbers, the WHO plans to reduce emissions by 15 percent each year by setting regulatory limits for emissions.

To cut down on emissions, people have developed eco-friendly transportation to lessen fuel consumption. Hybrid and electric cars are excellent examples of this, where cars became less dependent on the combustion of gasoline for propulsion. Biking and walking are other forms of eco-friendly transportation, but can make it challenging to travel the long distances where cars would be more useful.

Because air pollution is generally regarded as an outdoor problem, air quality within homes is often neglected. Homes with coal, wood, or kerosene heaters can produce high levels of carbon monoxide that sticks everywhere in the house and its residents. Contrary to what our intuition may tell us, ventilation within homes can increase the spread of toxic chemicals instead of letting them out. This is because residue can form on the walls of air ducts and grow mold from the already existing bacteria.

According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, healthy people exposed to levels of carbon monoxide levels ranging from 1 ppm to 70 ppm (parts per million) should not experience any symptoms unless the person has heart problems. As carbon monoxide levels rise above 70 ppm, people will experience fatigue, nausea, headaches. If constantly exposed to unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide, long-term consequences include lung cancer, heart disease, and other respiratory issues. Depending on the prior health of the person, death could be a result of prolonged exposure. By installing carbon monoxide alarms in homes, people would be able to check the levels of emissions coming from their stoves and furnaces and make sure the appliances are operating normally under the examination of professionals.

As humans continue to produce emissions, the environment gets negatively impacted as well. Air pollution can hurt crop yields by contaminating soil and water. Toxins found in carbon emissions can cause DNA mutations and diseases in all living organisms. Another dangerous outturn of air pollution is acid rain. Acid rain, generally known as a wet deposition, results from water and oxygen reacting with sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which come from artificial air pollutants. This reaction forms sulfuric and nitric acid, which can corrode and damage the planet. Wet depositions like acid rain most commonly refer to these compounds reacting with precipitation. Dry deposition, however, is even more dangerous in comparison. This is because the acid mixes with gas particles and can spread more easily through air movement. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, acidic precipitation is usually around 4.2 to 4.4 pH, while normal rain sits at 5.6 pH. Buildings, especially taller ones, can also degrade from the pollutants over time due to corrosion and discoloration. This poses severe dangers because the materials that hold the building together gradually lose mass and become brittle.

As a solution to protect the environment by limiting the amount of toxins in the air, people should gradually move to renewable energy. Having a healthier environment can improve the air quality for both humans and all other living organisms.

As we continue to gravitate towards eco-friendly options for transportation and energy, the process of ridding pollutants seems slow despite regulations being made to limit emissions. By identifying the sources and raising awareness towards air pollution, humanity can start making gradual lifestyle changes beginning within our homes and communities. Protect the vulnerable. Preserve the environment. Live a cleaner life.

Citations:

“Air Pollution.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 2021,

www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1.

“Carbon Monoxide's Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency,

22 Oct. 2020, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/carbon-monoxides-impact-indoor-air-

quality.

“Carbon-Monoxide-Questions-and-Answers.” CPSC.gov, United States Consumer Product

Safety Commission, 6 Sept. 2016, www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-

Centers/Carbon-Monoxide-Information-Center/Carbon-Monoxide-Questions-and-

Answers#:~:text=Most%20people%20will%20not%20experience,include%

20headache%2C%20fatigue%20and%20nausea.

Manisalidis, Ioannis, et al. “Environmental and Health Impacts of Air Pollution: A Review.”

Frontiers in Public Health, Frontiers Media S.A., 20 Feb. 2020,

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7044178/.

Rutledge, Kim, et al. “Air Pollution.” National Geographic Society, 9 Oct. 2012,

www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/air-pollution/.

“What Is Acid Rain?” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 12 May 2020,

www.epa.gov/acidrain/what-acid-

rain#:~:text=Acid%20rain%20results%20when%20sulfur,before%20falling

%20to%20the%20ground.

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