Air Pollution – Even Jerks Can Save the World

Air Pollution

Let’s begin with an interesting real time index of air quality worldwide, which represents the amount of pollution in the environment (the Air Quality Index is explained here).

You can see that, while the developed world is doing fairly well, many developing countries especially appear to be in the danger zone – specifically, most cities in China seem are in the Red list.

Air pollution takes mainly two forms

  • Visible air pollution, and
  • Invisible air pollution

There are two main types of pollutants

  • Primarily air pollutants – pollutants that are directly emitted by specific sources. A classic example of a primary pollutant would be the sulfur-dioxide emitted from factories
  • Secondary air pollutants – Ones that are owing to the reactions of primary pollutants. Smog created by the interactions of several primary pollutants is an example of a secondary air pollutant.

Prominent causes of air pollution

  • Burning of Fossil Fuels: Sulfur dioxide emitted from combustion of like coal, petroleum and other fuels is an important cause of air pollution (this is apart from CO2 that all these processes release!). Pollution from transport vehicles (trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, airplanes) is another main cause for air pollution – these release, in addition to CO2, pollutants such as Carbon Monoxide and Nitrogen Oxides,.
  • Exhaust from Factories and Industries: Manufacturing and process industries release large amounts of CO2, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, organic compounds, and chemicals into the air.
  • Mining Operations: During the mining process, dust and chemicals are released. A number of incidents have been reported where such pollution has severely affected the health of the mining workers, as well as those residing nearby.
  • Indoor Air Pollution: Household cleaning products, painting supplies emit toxic chemicals in the air and cause air pollution

Effects of Air Pollution

Some of the effects of air pollution are fairly well known to us:

  • Respiratory and heart problems
  • Global warming
  • Acid rain

But there are many other effects that are much less known:

  • Eutrophication: Eutrophication is a condition where high amounts of nitrogen water (a result of washing off the fertilizers into rivers) results in a huge algae bloom. This bloom can kill off the fish, plants and animal species in that location.
  • Effect on Wildlife: Animals too need clean air! Toxic chemicals present in the air can force wildlife species to move to new place and change their habitat. Some of these pollutants can also land up subsequently in water and end up affecting animals and fish that live in water too.
  • Depletion of Ozone layer: The ozone in earth’s stratosphere is responsible for protecting us from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays in the sunlight. Chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons and hydro chlorofluorocarbons are causing a depletion of this layer, resulting in an increasing amount of harmful UV rays on earth. High UV can result in ailments to skin and eyes, besides their possible harmful effects on plants.

Similar to efforts against land and water pollution, significant efforts are being undertaken to curb air pollution too. But with our economic and industrial development growing at a hectic pace worldwide, many have started wondering whether the current efforts are enough to make a big enough reduction. A related concern is whether the solutions being attempted are sustainable enough, or whether they will end up creating new environmental and ecosystem problems.

This is where – once again – the use of clean technologies comes in, for sustainably tackling air pollution.

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Narasimhan Santhanam

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