Where Does Air Pollution Come From?
As we discuss the terrible scourge of air pollution in our societies – whether in Eastern Europe or elsewhere – we’re often asked, “where does air pollution come from?” There are various factors causing air pollution – both natural and human-initiated, which contribute to the introduction of particulates and gases into the atmosphere.
Air pollution is the mixing of unwanted and harmful substances such as dust, chemicals, auto emissions, suspended particles, gases among others in our atmosphere. It can be of two types; indoor and outdoor air pollution. It is a serious threat to the health of living beings and the different ecosystems found in our environment. According to The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, it was the cause of death of approximately 9 million people around the world in 2015.
Image credit US National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/subjects/air/sources.htm)
There are several human activities which have been consistently polluting the air we breathe. Leading drivers include:
1. Exhaust from vehicles
Pollution from automobiles is impacting every city in the world. Vehicles run on fossil fuels such as petroleum and gasoline that emit soot and harmful gases such as CO and NOx which are among the major air pollutants in the environment.
2. Discharge from manufacturing industries and factories
Emissions from manufacturing industries are also a leading cause of air pollution. Harmful particulate matter and gases enter the atmosphere from this source. Major pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and other chemical wastes are deteriorating the quality of the air everywhere.
3. Mining activities
Mining involves different operations such as drilling, extracting, blasting and transportation. Air pollution from mining is caused because of release of gases such as methane, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide etc. and other dust and particulate matter during various stages of mining.
4. Burning of fossil fuels in power plants
Power plants burn a massive amount of fossil fuels such as gas and coal to produce electricity and as a result results in the mass production of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide among others.
Ammonia based fertilizers, which is abundantly released during agriculture, is one of the most harmful air pollutants, combining to form PM 2.5. Also the increased practice of using fertilizers and pesticides by farmers also releases other unwanted chemicals in the atmosphere.
6. Indoor pollution
Indoor pollution is cause by chemicals used in cleaning, paints containing lead and suspended particulate matter.
Major Pollutants That Cause Air Pollution
Pollutants are the substances that affect the air adversely. Below mentioned are the major pollutants in found in polluted air.
- Ozone: The normal, healthy layer of ozone at 6-30 miles above the surface protects us from ultraviolet rays. Harmful ozone is found in the lower part of our atmosphere or near the earth surface. It can cause respiratory ailments such as asthma.
- Sulfur dioxide: It is produced when fossil fuels are burned. It is one of the main elements that cause acid rain.
- Nitrogen oxides: Nitrogen dioxide is a component of ozone and also forms acid rain.
- Carbon monoxide: It is majorly emitted by automobiles and indoors it is emitted by poorly maintained heaters.
- Particulate matter: They are coarse or fine particles which may enter our lungs and cause problems in respiration.
- Volatile organic compounds: They are of two types; methane and non-methane volatile compounds. Methane contributes to global warming and other compounds help in the formation of ozone.
Natural Causes of Air Pollution
Most of the pollution of the air is caused because of the ignorance and negligence of humans but it is also true that some time the air can be polluted by natural causes.
The natural factors causing air pollution are:
- Forest fires
- Wind erosion
- Radioactivity released from decay of rocks
- Volcanic eruptions
Air Pollution Matters Because People Matter
As an individual, you have very little control over the air you breathe. You can install filters in your home or wear a mask – but by and large, you are subject to the pollution in your environment. It is important that we as citizens understand where pollution comes from and seek to influence our local businesses and lawmakers to make choices that will lead to cleaner air for us and future generations.