Controlling air pollution is as essential as water and land waste management, but what can we do to help?
Let’s explore the leading causes of atmospheric pollution and what the average person can do to prevent it from destroying our planet.
What is air pollution?
Air pollution happens when there is a concentration of harmful substances to the environment and animals and humans’ health. It is caused by humans and nature itself through natural occurrences like forest fires and volcanic eruptions.
Although naturally occurring air pollution cannot be mitigated or controlled, the human contribution to air pollution can. Most of the air contaminants that we are dealing with today directly result from the combustion process.
How did it all begin?
As far back as the Middle Ages, humans were already dealing with air quality problems because of excessive coal burning. A necessary fuel at the time, coal was responsible for the air pollution in larger cities like London.
The Industrial Revolution was born at the end of the 19th century. With it came the burning of fossil fuels which directly contributed to poor air quality and air pollution. After Karl Benz invented the car, air pollution became an even bigger problem.
For decades, this continued, and nobody was looking for solutions to pollution. Several years later, around the middle of the 20th century, governments and citizens realized that we have to start to figure out how to prevent pollution. Sadly, we are far from achieving this goal!
The leading causes of air pollution and its effects on human health
Let’s take a closer look at 10 of the leading causes of air pollution today:
#1. Burning of fossil fuels
Most air pollution happens when fossil fuels are burned. This includes coal and gasoline, which are used to fuel energy for transportation and electricity. During the burning process, high levels of carbon monoxide are released.
Respiratory illness can happen when we inhale toxic pollutants, and they affect the heart and its ability to pump enough oxygen.
#2. Industrial emissions
Air is directly affected by industry. Pollutants escape into the atmosphere from industries that burn coal or wood. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide are the primary pollutants.
This has a major impact on the environment and the air we breathe. It can cause throat and lung infections, eye irritation, and even chronic illness in humans and animals.
#3. Indoor air pollution
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) occur when temperature, humidity levels, and inadequate ventilation cause indoor pollutants. For example, someone smoking in a room with the windows closed or a room with mold. VOCs can cause serious health problems.
We have all seen the devastation caused by wildfires. When these fires come into contact with chemical gases from industry or home construction, toxic chemicals are burned, and gasses are released into the air. This deadly combination creates smog, which is hazardous to breathe.
#5. Microbial decaying process
The chemical, manufacturing, and textile industries are some of the culprits behind carbon monoxides, hydrocarbons, organic compounds, and other chemicals contaminating our environment.
This contamination affects bacteria and fungus in our environment, and as these microorganisms decay, methane gases are released. Methane is highly toxic and can even be deadly for humans.
Vehicle pollution is one of the most significant contributors to poor air quality. Urban cities suffer the most, but the impact is felt beyond the main city centers. If you drive a car, it is constantly burning gasoline and sending pollutants into the air.
These pollutants include hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and of course, carbon monoxide.
#7. Open burning of garbage waste
Burning garbage has created many environmental and human health problems worldwide. Delhi alone generates over 9,000 tons of waste daily, making it India’s second-largest waste dumping city. People exposed to the emissions from burning garbage can become chronically ill.
Severe medical conditions such as liver problems, reproductive issues, compromised immune systems, and even cancer have been reported.
#8. Construction and demolition
During the construction and demolition of buildings, dust and haze from materials such as bricks and concrete enter the atmosphere. The presence of these materials in the air can create poor air quality that affects those in the surrounding areas.
#9. Agricultural activities
Air quality is greatly affected by agricultural practices because of pesticides and fertilizers.
Once sprayed on a crop, the toxic compounds linger in the air and end up in water runoff, causing many serious health problems for those who breathe it in or ingest it.
#10. Chemical and synthetic products
We are so determined to figure out how to reduce air pollution outdoors, but what about indoor pollution? Did you know that indoor pollution is more harmful than outdoor air pollution?
Household products that contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as paints, personal care products, and cleaning products can all cause health problems. Breathing conditions like asthma and lung disease may be directly related to inhaling poor quality indoor air.
How can we stop polluting?
Air is something everyone needs, so the control of air pollution is crucial. By making some changes, everyone can do their part. Here are some simple but smart ways to reduce air pollution:
Minimize air pollution from cars - Road transport is one of the biggest culprits. Harmful emissions coming from motor vehicles affect human health and the environment. You could:
- Take fewer trips by car, walk, cycle or use public transport instead. It’s good for the environment and your health!
- If you must drive, avoid excessive engine use by not letting your car idle.
- Bring lunch to work, or walk to a nearby restaurant to avoid trips back and forth to your home.
- Choose a vehicle that is fuel-efficient or runs on electricity.
- Avoid speeding or driving during rush hour.
- Avoid diesel cars
- Maintain your car so it runs more efficiently.
Save and use energy wisely - It’s essential to be mindful of your energy consumption. Decreasing your energy usage will not only save you money but will also help save the environment. Some ways to save energy at home include:
- Cut down on air conditioner use. Instead, open your windows at night, and close them during the day to help cool your home down without electricity.
- Use appliances more effectively. For example, only run your dishwasher when you have a full load.
- Try to convert to a more renewable energy source. Solar and wind are just two ways one can use an energy source that does not emit gases. By switching to a more renewable energy source, you can significantly lower your own personal emissions amount.
Maintain your fireplace - It’s important to keep wood-burning fireplaces in proper working condition. Poorly maintained fireplaces could release harmful particulate matter into your home and atmosphere.
Recycling or buying recycled products - Recycling is a way of utilizing the same materials, but without the need for mining, transport, and cleaning raw materials, which dramatically impacts the environment. It’s also a surprisingly easy way to help save the planet!
It takes very little time to gather your recycling together and send it out to the curb or drop it off at a recycling facility nearby. Products like the can crusher help compact items for recycling, meaning you can maximize the amount you can recycle at a given time.
Be a smarter consumer - According to studies, countries that produce cheap goods to be exported to developed countries have more deaths directly related to air pollution. Avoid supporting cheap goods from countries with inadequate regulations in place.
Instead, direct your purchasing power to local companies that have eco-friendly manufacturing processes in place.
Shop for local organic produce - Corporate farming companies are responsible for significant amounts of airborne pollutants like ammonia, nitrous oxide, and nitric oxide. Large-scale livestock farms emit higher levels of methane which is strongly linked to greenhouse gases.
Although organic produce is not entirely emission-free, buying from local organic farms will reduce your impact on the environment. You could even grow your own produce to lower your carbon footprint even further.
Eat less meat - By eating less meat or cutting it out altogether, you will drastically reduce your impact on pollution, and you’ll save some money by cutting out an expensive food item from your shopping bill.
Plant trees - Planting trees is a great way to help clean up the air (as trees are nature’s air cleaners), but it also helps keep the area around your house cooler. Trees can help decrease carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, monoxide, ozone, dioxin, and benzene from the atmosphere, along with particulate matter.
Raise awareness and get involved locally and globally - By raising awareness, you can help spread the word about the threat of air pollution and educate people on ways to reduce it.
Cleaner air begins with you!
Having clean air is not only a priority; it is a necessity. Everybody on earth is responsible for doing their part in helping to create a healthier planet with cleaner and clearer air quality.
Learning how to recycle in your home and being more conscious of reducing your carbon footprint is just the beginning. Helping others to become aware of air pollution solutions is your next step - the more people learn how to stop pollution, the better it is for the world.
Eventually, your choices, awareness, and level of commitment will help the air quality control measures globally. The air we breathe is essential, and what we can do to help is equally important. Get involved, take action; we all deserve to breathe clean air!