Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or damages the natural environment into the atmosphere.
The atmosphere is a complex, dynamic natural gaseous system that is essential to support life on planet Earth. Stratospheric ozone depletion due to air pollution has long been recognized as a threat to human health as well as to the Earth's ecosystems.
An air pollutant is known as a substance in the air that can cause harm to humans and the environment. Pollutants can be in the form of solid particles, liquid droplets, or gases. In addition, they may be natural or man-made.
Pollutants can be classified as either primary or secondary. Usually, primary pollutants are substances directly emitted from a process, such as ash from a volcanic eruption, the carbon monoxide gas from a motor vehicle exhaust or sulfur dioxide released from factories.
Secondary pollutants are not emitted directly. Rather, they form in the air when primary pollutants react or interact. An important example of a secondary pollutant is ground level ozone — one of the many secondary pollutants that make up photochemical smog.
Note that some pollutants may be both primary and secondary: that is, they are both emitted directly and formed from other primary pollutants.
About 4 percent of deaths in the United States can be attributed to air pollution, according to the Environmental Science Engineering Program at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Major primary pollutants produced by human activity include:
Secondary pollutants include:
Minor air pollutants include:
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, to be capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, biomagnify in food chains, and to have potential significant impacts on human health and the environment.
Sources of air pollution refer to the various locations, activities or factors which are responsible for the releasing of pollutants in the atmosphere. These sources can be classified into two major categories which are:
Anthropogenic sources (human activity) mostly related to burning different kinds of fuel
Air pollutant emission factors are representative values that attempt to relate the quantity of a pollutant released to the ambient air with an activity associated with the release of that pollutant. These factors are usually expressed as the weight of pollutant divided by a unit weight, volume, distance, or duration of the activity emitting the pollutant (e.g., kilograms of particulate emitted per megagram of coal burned). Such factors facilitate estimation of emissions from various sources of air pollution. In most cases, these factors are simply averages of all available data of acceptable quality, and are generally assumed to be representative of long-term averages.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has published a compilation of air pollutant emission factors for a multitude of industrial sources. The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and many other countries have published similar compilations, as well as the European Environment Agency.
A lack of ventilation indoors concentrates air pollution where people often spend the majority of their time. Radon (Rn) gas, a carcinogen, is exuded from the Earth in certain locations and trapped inside houses. Building materials including carpeting and plywood emit formaldehyde (H2CO) gas. Paint and solvents give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they dry. Lead paint can degenerate into dust and be inhaled. Intentional air pollution is introduced with the use of air fresheners, incense, and other scented items. Controlled wood fires in stoves and fireplaces can add significant amounts of smoke particulates into the air, inside and out. Indoor pollution fatalities may be caused by using pesticides and other chemical sprays indoors without proper ventilation.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and fatalities are often caused by faulty vents and chimneys, or by the burning of charcoal indoors. Chronic carbon monoxide poisoning can result even from poorly adjusted pilot lights. Traps are built into all domestic plumbing to keep sewer gas, hydrogen sulfide, out of interiors. Clothing emits tetrachloroethylene, or other dry cleaning fluids, for days after dry cleaning.
Though its use has now been banned in many countries, the extensive use of asbestos in industrial and domestic environments in the past has left a potentially very dangerous material in many localities. Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory medical condition affecting the tissue of the lungs. It occurs after long-term, heavy exposure to asbestos from asbestos-containing materials in structures. Sufferers have severe dyspnea (shortness of breath) and are at an increased risk regarding several different types of lung cancer. As clear explanations are not always stressed in non-technical literature, care should be taken to distinguish between several forms of relevant diseases. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), these may defined as; asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma (generally a very rare form of cancer, when more widespread it is almost always associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos).
Biological sources of air pollution are also found indoors, as gases and airborne particulates. Pets produce dander, people produce dust from minute skin flakes and decomposed hair, dust mites in bedding, carpeting and furniture produce enzymes and micrometre-sized fecal droppings, inhabitants emit methane, mold forms in walls and generates mycotoxins and spores, air conditioning systems can incubate Legionnaires' disease and mold, and houseplants, soil and surrounding gardens can produce pollen, dust, and mold. Indoors, the lack of air circulation allows these airborne pollutants to accumulate more than they would otherwise occur in nature.
The World Health Organization states that 2.4 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution, with 1.5 million of these deaths attributable to indoor air pollution. "Epidemiological studies suggest that more than 500,000 Americans die each year from cardiopulmonary disease linked to breathing fine particle air pollution. . ." A study by the University of Birmingham has shown a strong correlation between pneumonia related deaths and air pollution from motor vehicles. Worldwide more deaths per year are linked to air pollution than to automobile accidents. Published in 2005 suggests that 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution annually. Direct causes of air pollution related deaths include aggravated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases, and respiratory allergies. The US EPA estimates that a proposed set of changes in diesel engine technology (Tier 2) could result in 12,000 fewer premature mortalities, 15,000 fewer heart attacks, 6,000 fewer emergency room visits by children with asthma, and 8,900 fewer respiratory-related hospital admissions each year in the United States.
The worst short term civilian pollution crisis in India was the 1984 Bhopal Disaster. Leaked industrial vapors from the Union Carbide factory, belonging to Union Carbide, Inc., U.S.A., killed more than 2,000 people outright and injured anywhere from 150,000 to 600,000 others, some 6,000 of whom would later die from their injuries. The United Kingdom suffered its worst air pollution event when the December 4 Great Smog of 1952 formed over London. In six days more than 4,000 died, and 8,000 more died within the following months. An accidental leak of anthrax spores from a biological warfare laboratory in the former USSR in 1979 near Sverdlovsk is believed to have been the cause of hundreds of civilian deaths. The worst single incident of air pollution to occur in the United States of America occurred in Donora, Pennsylvania in late October, 1948, when 20 people died and over 7,000 were injured.
The health effects caused by air pollutants may range from subtle biochemical and physiological changes to difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing and aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. These effects can result in increased medication use, increased doctor or emergency room visits, more hospital admissions and premature death. The human health effects of poor air quality are far reaching, but principally affect the body's respiratory system and the cardiovascular system. Individual reactions to air pollutants depend on the type of pollutant a person is exposed to, the degree of exposure, the individual's health status and genetics.
A new economic study of the health impacts and associated costs of air pollution in the Los Angeles Basin and San Joaquin Valley of Southern California shows that more than 3800 people die prematurely (approximately 14 years earlier than normal) each year because air pollution levels violate federal standards. The number of annual premature deaths is considerably higher than the fatalities related to auto collisions in the same area, which average fewer than 2,000 per year .
Diesel exhaust (DE) is a major contributor to combustion derived particulate matter air pollution. In several human experimental studies, using a well validated exposure chamber setup, DE has been linked to acute vascular dysfunction and increased thrombus formation. This serves as a plausible mechanistic link between the previously described association between particulate matter air pollution and increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.
A study from 1999 to 2000 by the University of Washington showed that patients near and around particulate matter air pollution had an increased risk of pulmonary exacerbations and decrease in lung function. Patients were examined before the study for amounts of specific pollutants like Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Burkholderia cenocepacia as well as their socioeconomic standing. Participants involved in the study were located in the United States in close proximity to an Environmental Protection Agency. During the time of the study 117 deaths were associated with air pollution. A trend was noticed that patients living closer or in large metropolitan areas to be close to medical help also had higher level of pollutants found in their system because of more emissions in larger cities. With cystic fibrosis patients already being born with decreased lung function everyday pollutants such as smoke emissions from automobiles, tobacco smoke and improper use of indoor heating devices could add to the disintegration of lung function.
A study conducted in 1960-1961 in the wake of the Great Smog of 1952 compared 293 London residents with 477 residents of Gloucester, Peterborough, and Norwich, three towns with low reported death rates from chronic bronchitis. All subjects were male postal truck drivers aged 40 to 59. Compared to the subjects from the outlying towns, the London subjects exhibited more severe respiratory symptoms (including cough, phlegm, and dyspnea), reduced lung function (FEV1 and peak flow rate), and increased sputum production and purulence. The differences were more pronounced for subjects aged 50 to 59. The study controlled for age and smoking habits, so concluded that air pollution was the most likely cause of the observed differences.
It is believed that much like cystic fibrosis, by living in a more urban environment serious health hazards become more apparent. Studies have shown that in urban areas patients suffer mucus hypersecretion, lower levels of lung function, and more self diagnosis of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Early in December 1952, a cold fog descended upon London. Because of the cold, Londoners began to burn more coal than usual. The resulting air pollution was trapped by the inversion layer formed by the dense mass of cold air. Concentrations of pollutants, coal smoke in particular, built up dramatically. The problem was made worse by use of low-quality, high-sulphur coal for home heating in London in order to permit export of higher-quality coal, because of the country's tenuous postwar economic situation. The "fog", or smog, was so thick that driving became difficult or impossible.. The extreme reduction in visibility was accompanied by an increase in criminal activity as well as transportation delays and a virtual shut down of the city. During the 4 day period of fog, at least 4,000 people died as a direct result of the weather.
Cities around the world with high exposure to air pollutants have the possibility of children living within them to develop asthma, pneumonia and other lower respiratory infections as well as a low initial birth rate. Protective measures to ensure the youths' health are being taken in cities such as New Delhi, India where buses now use compressed natural gas to help eliminate the “pea-soup” smog. Research by the World Health Organization shows there is the greatest concentration of particulate matter particles in countries with low economic world power and high poverty and population rates. Examples of these countries include Egypt, Sudan, Mongolia, and Indonesia. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, however in 2002 at least 146 million Americans were living in areas that did not meet at least one of the “criteria pollutants” laid out in the 1997 National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Those pollutants included: ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead. Because children are outdoors more and have higher minute ventilation they are more susceptible to the dangers of air pollution.
Even in areas with relatively low levels of air pollution, public health effects can be substantial and costly. This is because effects can occur at very low levels and a large number of people can potentially breathe in such pollutants. A 2005 scientific study for the British Columbia Lung Association showed that a 1% improvement in ambient PM2.5 and ozone concentrations will produce a $29 million in annual savings in the region in 2010. This finding is based on health valuation of lethal (mortality) and sub-lethal (morbidity) effects.
There are various air pollution control technologies and land use planning strategies available to reduce air pollution. At its most basic level land use planning is likely to involve zoning and transport infrastructure planning. In most developed countries, land use planning is an important part of social policy, ensuring that land is used efficiently for the benefit of the wider economy and population as well as to protect the environment.
Efforts to reduce pollution from mobile sources includes primary regulation (many developing countries have permissive regulations), expanding regulation to new sources (such as cruise and transport ships, farm equipment, and small gas-powered equipment such as lawn trimmers, chainsaws, and snowmobiles), increased fuel efficiency (such as through the use of hybrid vehicles), conversion to cleaner fuels (such as bioethanol, biodiesel, or conversion to electric vehicles).
The following items are commonly used as pollution control devices by industry or transportation devices. They can either destroy contaminants or remove them from an exhaust stream before it is emitted into the atmosphere.
In general, there are two types of air quality standards. The first class of standards (such as the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards) set maximum atmospheric concentrations for specific pollutants. Environmental agencies enact regulations which are intended to result in attainment of these target levels. The second class (such as the North American Air Quality Index) take the form of a scale with various thresholds, which is used to communicate to the public the relative risk of outdoor activity. The scale may or may not distinguish between different pollutants.
In Canada, air quality is typically evaluated against standards set by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), an inter-governmental body of federal, provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for the environment. The CCME has set Canada Wide Standards(CWS). These are:
Note that there is no consequence in Canada to not achieving these standards. In addition, these only apply to jurisdictions with populations greater than 100,000. Further, provinces and territories may set more stringent standards than those set by the CCME.
National Emission Ceilings (NEC) for certain atmospheric pollutants are regulated by NECD Directive 2001/81/EC (NECD). As part of the preparatory work associated with the revision of the NECD, the European Commission is assisted by the NECPI working group (National Emission Ceilings – Policy Instruments).
Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (the new Air Quality Directive) has entried into force 2008-06-11 .
Individual citizens can force their local councils to tackle air pollution, following an important ruling in July 2009 from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EU’s court was asked to judge the case of a resident of Munich, Dieter Janecek, who said that under the 1996 EU Air Quality Directive (Council Directive 96/62/EC of 27 September 1996 on ambient air quality assessment and management ) the Munich authorities were obliged to take action to stop pollution exceeding specified targets. Janecek then took his case to the ECJ, whose judges said European citizens are entitled to demand air quality action plans from local authorities in situations where there is a risk that EU limits will be overshot. .
Air quality targets set by the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are mostly aimed at local government representatives responsible for the management of air quality in cities, where air quality management is the most urgent. The UK has established an air quality network where levels of the key air pollutants are published by monitoring centers. Air quality in Oxford, Bath and London is particularly poor. One controversial study performed by the Calor Gas company and published in the Guardian newspaper compared walking in Oxford on an average day to smoking over sixty light cigarettes.
More precise comparisons can be collected from the UK Air Quality Archive which allows the user to compare a cities management of pollutants against the national air quality objectives set by DEFRA in 2000.
Localized peak values are often cited, but average values are also important to human health. The UK National Air Quality Information Archive offers almost real-time monitoring of "current maximum" air pollution measurements for many UK towns and cities. This source offers a wide range of constantly updated data, including:
DEFRA acknowledges that air pollution has a significant effect on health and has produced a simple banding index system is used to create a daily warning system that is issued by the BBC Weather Service to indicate air pollution levels. DEFRA has published guidelines for people suffering from respiratory and heart diseases.
In the 1960s, 70s, and 90s, the United States Congress enacted a series of Clean Air Acts which significantly strengthened regulation of air pollution. Individual U.S. states, some European nations and eventually the European Union followed these initiatives. The Clean Air Act sets numerical limits on the concentrations of a basic group of air pollutants and provide reporting and enforcement mechanisms.
The effects of these laws have been very positive. In the United States between 1970 and 2006, citizens enjoyed the following reductions in annual pollution emissions:
In an October 2006 letter to EPA, the agency's independent scientific advisors warned that the ozone smog standard “needs to be substantially reduced” and that there is “no scientific justification” for retaining the current, weaker standard. The scientists unanimously recommended a smog threshold of 60 to 70 ppb after they conducted an extensive review of the evidence.
The EPA has proposed, in June 2007, a new threshold of 75 ppb. This is less strict than the scientific recommendation, but is more strict than the current standard.
Some industries are lobbying to keep the current standards in place. Environmentalists and public health advocates are mobilizing to support the scientific recommendations.
The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are pollution thresholds which trigger mandatory remediation plans by state and local governments, subject to enforcement by the EPA.
An outpouring of dust layered with man-made sulfates, smog, industrial fumes, carbon grit, and nitrates is crossing the Pacific Ocean on prevailing winds from booming Asian economies in plumes so vast they alter the climate. Almost a third of the air over Los Angeles and San Francisco can be traced directly to Asia. With it comes up to three-quarters of the black carbon particulate pollution that reaches the West Coast.
Libertarians typically suggest propertarian methods of stopping pollution. They advocate strict liability which would hold accountable anyone who causes polluted air to emanate into someone else's airspace. This offense would be considered aggression, and damages could be sought in court under the common law, possibly through class action suits. Since in a libertarian society, highways would be privatized under a system of free market roads, the highway owners would also be held liable for pollution emanating from vehicles traveling along their property. This would give them a financial incentive to keep the worst polluters off of their roads.
Air pollution is usually concentrated in densely populated metropolitan areas, especially in developing countries where environmental regulations are relatively lax or nonexistent. However, even populated areas in developed countries attain unhealthy levels of pollution.
|Most Polluted World Cities by PM|
|128||Kolkata, India (Calcutta)|
|Countries with the highest CO2 emissions|
|Country||Carbon dioxide emissions per
year (106 Tons) (2006)
|Percentage of global total|
|Countries with the highest per capita CO2 emissions|
|Country||Carbon dioxide emissions per year
(Tons per person) (2006)
|United Arab Emirates||32.8|
|Trinidad and Tobago||25.3|
The basic technology for analyzing air pollution is through the use of a variety of mathematical models for predicting the transport of air pollutants in the lower atmosphere. The principal methodologies are:
The point source problem is the best understood, since it involves simpler mathematics and has been studied for a long period of time, dating back to about the year 1900. It uses a Gaussian dispersion model for buoyant pollution plumes to forecast the air pollution isopleths, with consideration given to wind velocity, stack height, emission rate and stability class (a measure of atmospheric turbulence). This model has been extensively validated and calibrated with experimental data for all sorts of atmospheric conditions.
The roadway air dispersion model was developed starting in the late 1950s and early 1960s in response to requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the U.S. Department of Transportation (then known as the Federal Highway Administration) to understand impacts of proposed new highways upon air quality, especially in urban areas. Several research groups were active in this model development, among which were: the Environmental Research and Technology (ERT) group in Lexington, Massachusetts, the ESL Inc. group in Sunnyvale, California and the California Air Resources Board group in Sacramento, California. The research of the ESL group received a boost with a contract award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to validate a line source model using sulfur hexafluoride as a tracer gas. This program was successful in validating the line source model developed by ESL inc. Some of the earliest uses of the model were in court cases involving highway air pollution, the Arlington, Virginia portion of Interstate 66 and the New Jersey Turnpike widening project through East Brunswick, New Jersey.
Area source models were developed in 1971 through 1974 by the ERT and ESL groups, but addressed a smaller fraction of total air pollution emissions, so that their use and need was not as widespread as the line source model, which enjoyed hundreds of different applications as early as the 1970s. Similarly photochemical models were developed primarily in the 1960s and 1970s, but their use was more specialized and for regional needs, such as understanding smog formation in Los Angeles, California.
The greenhouse effect is a phenomenon whereby greenhouse gases create a condition in the upper atmosphere causing a trapping of heat and leading to increased surface and lower tropospheric temperatures. Carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuels is the major problem. Other greenhouse gases include methane, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and ozone.
This effect has been understood by scientists for about a century, and technological advancements during this period have helped increase the breadth and depth of data relating to the phenomenon. Currently, scientists are studying the role of changes in composition of greenhouse gases from natural and anthropogenic sources for the effect on climate change.
A number of studies have also investigated the potential for long-term rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to cause increases in the acidity of ocean waters and the possible effects of this on marine ecosystems.
Air pollution is a change in the air that can influence the health, , or activities of organisms, including humans. Many of the world's large cities today have bad air quality. Even 2,000 years ago, the Romans were complaining about the bad air in their cities (at that time, the air was thick with smoke from fires and the smell of ). Air pollution has been for a long time a danger to human health and Earth's many ecosystems.
Even "clean" air is not really clean. It has many pollutants (things that pollute the air) from natural sources. These pollutants include dust, sea salt, volcanic ashes and gases, smoke from forest fires, pollen, and many other materials. In fact, there are many more natural pollutants than pollutants that human make. However, humans have adapted to most of these natural pollutants.
Most of the air pollution that people worry about is what is made by human activities. Pollutants caused by human activities can be solids, liquids, or gases--and most of it comes from cars and factories. Most of the air pollution in cities is human-made air pollution. As more people move to cities, the air pollution increases.
Air pollutions are usually described as either primary pollutants or secondary pollutants. Primary pollutants are pollutants that are put directly into the air by humans or natural sources. For instance, exhaust (gas) from cars, from smoke, duststorms and ash from volcanic eruptions (as seen in the picture on the left), are all examples of primary pollutants.
Secondary pollutants are pollutants that are made from chemical reactions when primary pollutants mix with other primary pollutants or natural substances like water vapor. Many secondary pollutants are made when a primary pollutant reacts with sunlight. Ozone and smog are secondary pollutants. Ozone is a gas that is helpful and takes in harmful rays from the sun. When it is near the ground, though, ozone is a dangerous pollutant that influences the health of all organisms.
Human-made air pollution comes from many things. Most air pollution made by humans today is because of transportation. Cars, for instance, make about 60% of the human-made air pollution in the United States. The gases inside car exhaust, like nitrogen oxide, make smog and acid rain.
Many industrial power plants burn fossil fuels to get their energy. But burning fossil fuels can make lots of oxides (chemical compounds that have oxygen and other elements inside). In fact, the burning of fossil fuels makes 96% of the sulfur oxides in the atmosphere.
Some industries also make chemicals that make poisonous fumes (smoke).
Air pollution is not only on the outside. Homes, schools, and buildings can have lots of air pollution, too. Sometimes the air inside a building is even worse than the air outside. Many things we use every day pollute the air. Compounds inside carpets, paints, building materials, and furniture also pollute the air, especially when they are new.
In buildings where the windows are tightly shut to stop air leaks and so the payment for electricity will be less, pollutants can be higher than outside.
Air pollution is a problem everywhere in the world. Local air pollution, like smog, usually influences big cities. Air pollution becomes a worldwide worry when local pollution moves away from where it came from because of wind. For example, winds carry air pollution made in the middle of the western part of the United States to Canada, like acid precipitation.
Acid precipitation is rain, sleet, or snow, that has acids from air pollution. When fossil fuels are burned, they let out oxides into the air. When these oxides mix with water in the atmosphere, they make acid, which fall as precipitation. Acid precipitation can kill living things, like fish and trees, by making the place where they live too acidic. Acid rain can also damage buildings made by limestone and concrete., like
Other global concerns because of air pollution include the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole in the stratosphere. The ozone layer in the stratosphere is supposed to protect people from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. But in the 1970s, scientists found out that some chemicals let out into the atmosphere makes the ozone turn into oxygen, which makes more ultraviolet rays reach the earth. During the 1980s, scientists found that the ozone layer above the South Pole had thinned by 50 to 98 percent.
On March 17, 1992, in Mexico City, all children under the age of 14 could not go to school because of air pollution. This does not often happen, but being to air pollution every day can make people have many health problems. Children, elderly (old) people, and people with allergies especially, can have a lot of problems because of air pollution. Studies from the University of Birmingham showed that deaths because of pneumonia and air pollution from motor vehicles like cars are related. The World Health Organization said that 2.4 million people died because of direct problems of air pollution.Some of the problems include:
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