Air pollution is one of the most severe predicaments that the modern world has ever faced and continues to face. It is so grave that the current pollution levels cannot be left as they are. And, both industry and government across the world must immediately prioritize the reduction of these air pollutants.
“Household air pollution was responsible for 2.6 million deaths (4.7% of the global total) and 77 million DALYs (3.2% of the [worldwide] total) in 2016.”
Note: DALYs is an acronym for “Disability-Adjusted Life Years” Essentially, a DALY is considered to be one lost year of healthy life by the World Health Organisation.
Air pollution: Definition and Causatives
Before we look at the myriad of reasons why it is vital to pay attention to the high levels of contamination in the air we breathe, let’s look at a simple definition of air pollution.
Succinctly stated, the phrase “air pollution” indicates that the atmosphere is contaminated by toxic chemical particles and biological matter. The Blacksmith Institute noted in 2008 that the globe’s two worst pollution headaches are urban air quality and indoor air pollution.
Air Pollution: Measurements
Air pollution statistics are measured in several different ways. For example, in the United States, the EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) computes the following seven distinct pollutants: carbon monoxide, lead, mercury, nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter.
These pollutants are released into the air by the following methods:
- Burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline (petroleum).
- Particles are released in the air by agricultural activities like plowing and burning of fields, burning wood for cooking and heat, and use of volatile organic compounds like solvents and paint.
It is equally important to note what causes each of these seven pollutants. Therefore, here is a detailed description of the causes of each contaminant.
- Carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the air through the burning of natural gas, coal, oil, and petroleum (gasoline).
- Ozone is considered a secondary pollutant and is released as a result of the chemical reactions between Volatile Organic Compounds and Nitrogen Oxides.
- Sulfur dioxide is caused by the burning of high-sulfur coal and oil to facilitate industrial processes like metal smelting and paper processing.
- Lead is released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, petroleum-containing lead, metal refineries, and the manufacture of batteries.
- Mercury is produced in a similar fashion to lead. Succinctly stated the burning of fossil fuels, mining, and industrial processes like incineration and smelting of metals.
- Particulate matter is primarily caused as a result of different chemical processes, burning wood, coal, and diesel, and agricultural processes like excessive plowing of fields.
Thus, by studying the above information, it is essential to note that, in summary, the primary cause of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels like coal, wood, natural gas, petroleum (gasoline), and oil. Thus, it makes sense to conclude that, in order to reduce air contaminants, it is critical to stop burning fossil fuels. Or, if it is essential to burn fossil fuels, it is vital to develop cleaner burning techniques that release fewer pollutants into the air.
The consequence of air pollution
It is not enough to define air pollution and state its causes in depth. It is equally important to note its consequences because the ramifications of air pollution provide the primary drivers for the discussion around why it is critical to do everything possible to reduce the high levels of atmospheric pollutants.
Before we look at the two major categories of air pollution, namely the environment and human health, here is an example of how air pollution can have a negative effect of both the environment and human functioning:
Furthermore, the consequences of air pollutions can be divided into the following two major sections:
The effect on the environment
The polluted air floats on the earth’s surface, and it is often transported to regions far away from its origin by wind, clouds, rain, and high temperature.
A typical example of how air pollutants have a far-reaching impact on the world is the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. Not only did the resultant volcanic ash disrupt air traffic across Northern and Western Europe for at least 50% of April 2010, the ash destroyed agricultural crops, grazing pastures, and forced farmers to keep cattle and horses.
The impact on human health
The volcanic ash from the Eyjafjallajökull did not cause any human fatalities. However, the ash particles floating in the air caused respiratory symptoms in people living close to the volcano.
It is vital to note that, although in this case, the result of the air pollution was not severe as it could be, air contaminants are known to result in severe cardiovascular problems and even mental development problems in children. It is safe to conclude that pregnant women, children, the elderly, and everyone with a compromised immune system are at risk.
In conclusion, the raison d’etre for this article is to provide an argument for the immediate reduction in air pollutant levels. If the various global sectors like industry, government, and NGOs do not put agile and actionable policies and procedures in place to substantially reduce air pollution levels, the impact on the environment and human health and wellbeing will be dire.