Air is as vital as life. Like life, the air we breathe is a fragile component of the world’s survival. Without it, you and I will cease to exist. Below we tell a story of humankind’s fight against the pollution of the planet’s atmosphere.
Simply put, air pollution is the high concentration of pollutants in the atmosphere.
The air becomes polluted when the atmosphere collects excess amounts of harmful gases. Such massive quantities that they exceed Earth’s natural capacity to disperse them. Neither is it able to dilute or absorb the chemicals due to its high concentrations.
Examples of the most common pollutants today are:
- Particulate matter
- Nitrogen Dioxide
- Carbon Monoxide, and
- Sulfur Dioxide.
But there is nothing simple about the effects of the presence of these chemical compounds in our air.
These particles can pose severe threats to human, animal, and plant life. Not only that, but they also bring a slew of other issues affecting our ecosystem in a catastrophic way.
To know the causes of air pollution, first, we need to find out where they come from. Air pollutants are usually categorized into two types: primary and secondary pollutants.
Primary pollutants refer to compounds that sources emit straight into the atmosphere. These may be due to either man-made actions or natural events. While secondary pollutants form when a primary pollutant interacts with other chemicals.
Natural phenomena include:
- volcanic eruptions
- forest fires
- lightning strikes
- wind erosion
- pollen dispersal
- organic compound evaporation
- natural radioactivity
They release large concentrations of chemicals into the air. It’s a good thing these forces of nature, although uncontrollable, do not happen very often.
But air pollution caused by human activities is much more prevalent, especially today.
We discuss in detail the most widespread human activities that cause air pollution.
Combustion of Fossil Fuels
When we burn fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil to produce energy, we release harmful gases into the air.
It is their natural behavior to trap heat. So when these gases accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere, they absorb the sun’s rays. This causes temperatures on Earth’s surface to rise.
This creates the formation of a vicious cycle. Air pollution contributes to the worsening of another environmental issue, Climate Change. While climate change increases global temperatures. In turn, higher temperatures intensify some types of air pollutants. Like smog, for example, which only forms when the weather is warm.
Industries that are common in urban cities emit vast amounts of these harmful gases. They emit gaseous waste into the air daily as the end result of their production process.
The use of vehicles like cars, trains, and airplanes releases Carbon Monoxide. Since we rely on them daily, it is inevitable that a considerable volume gets emitted daily.
Agriculture may connote the idea of green living, but it will surprise you to find out otherwise. The cultivation of vegetables and fruits produces a harmful by-product. Farmers often use fertilizers on their crops. This means that they dose acres of farmlands with chemicals. These chemicals, in turn, get emitted into the air.
Animal farms also contribute to air pollution in the form of animal waste like urine and manure. In fact, animal waste produces a staggering number (estimated at 400) of gases.
Since farms keep masses of animals in one location, the gases they emit daily can rise to alarming levels. This poses a danger to the local community and environment.
Particulate matters are another cause of air pollution. These are microscopic-sized solid or liquid particles that get suspended in the air. Various processes like industrial, commercial, and residential combustion produce these materials.
Household cleaning supplies like cleansers and disinfectants contribute to indoor air pollution. The same goes for home improvement materials like waxes, paints, varnishes, and solvents.
What is the state of the Earth’s atmosphere today? The World Health Organization conducted a 2-day consultation with experts on February 12-14. Here are the hard facts they found.
- 91% of the world’s entire population lives in places with air quality that is below the WHO guideline limits.
- Over 80% of people living in urban areas breathe in contaminants in the air that exceed limits set by the WHO.
- 7 million deaths that occur worldwide every year are due to air pollution. To be specific, 4.2 million deaths that occur every year are due to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Also, 3.8 million deaths that occur per year are due to exposure from smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels.
- 9 out of 10 people breathe in air that contains high levels of pollutants.
- 24% of deaths from stroke are due to air pollution, estimated at 1.4 million every year.
- 25% of deaths due to heart disease are because of air pollution, estimated at 2.4 million deaths per year.
- 43% of deaths due to lung disease and lung cancer are because of air pollution, estimated at 1.8 million per year.
The World Economic Forum talks about the state of the world’s cities in an article released recently. This article was first published on Reuters during the middle of 2018. The report gives revealing data.
They gathered data from 4,300 cities in the world, taken from the WHO’s database. The aim was to find out which cities are most polluted based on the amount of particulate matter present. The results all point to India being the most polluted country. This is because 5 out of 10 of the most polluted cities in the world are cities in India. Here’s the list.
- Gwalior in India
- Allahabad in India
- Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia
- Pasakha in Bhutan
- Raipur in India
- Novi Sad in Serbia
- Delhi in India
- Ludhiana in India
- Cairo in Egypt
- Khanna in India
What This Means
Because we live on one planet and one ecosystem, we share all the resources on Earth with every living thing in it. That includes pollution, contaminants, and waste. No matter how far apart we are from each other, what happens in one part of the world will always affect the rest of it.
Air pollution has become so widespread that it has brought about many other issues. These environmental concerns also pose catastrophic effects on our ecosystem.
Immune, Respiratory, and Heart Problems
The Carbon Monoxide from the fossil fuels we burn has direct and negative impacts on our health.
- Always breathing polluted air puts people at risk of many respiratory diseases. Coughing is frequent in urban areas which have higher levels of pollutants.
- Exposure to high levels of particulate matter causes higher incidents of health problems. This includes heart and lung problems and even lung cancer.
- Air pollution causes damage to the immune and reproductive systems of the body.
- Children are also put at risk of getting asthma and pneumonia due to exposure to pollutants.
Depletion of The Ozone Layer
The Ozone layer is the protective blanket hovering over Earth’s stratosphere. It prevents the sun’s harmful rays from reaching the surface. The significant presence of air pollutants in the atmosphere contributes to its thinning. The effects of UV rays on humans are disastrous as these can cause eye and skin problems. Strong evidence shows that exposure can cause the following:
- Skin cancer
- Respiratory inflammation due to decreased lung function
- Damage to the immune system
- Eye damage like ‘snow blindness’, cataracts, pterygium, and pinguecula
- Premature skin aging
There is a worldwide call today for the need to take immediate action against air pollution. The collection of harmful gases in the atmosphere is causing the Earth to become warmer each day.
Global warming, or Climate Change, is sending out signals warning against impending disasters.
- Rise in global temperatures – The rise of the Earth’s surface has reached up to 1.62o F since the end of the 19th century.
- Heating up of oceans – The oceans’ top 700 meters of the surface have increased temperatures of up to 0.4o F.
- Melting of the glaciers and icebergs – Antartica’s ice mass has lost triple its average size in the last 10 years.
- Rising of sea levels – Global sea levels increased to 8 inches in the last 100 years and is accelerating yearly.
There are invisible air pollutants like Nitrogen Oxide and Sulfuric Oxide. When they combine with the rain that falls to the Earth, they form Acid Rain. Some of the devastating effects of acid rain include:
- The inability of fish eggs to hatch, and most young fish to survive acidic bodies of water
- The death of trees and plants as acid rain removes minerals and nutrients from the soil
- The increased risk of heart attacks resulting in human death
Eutrophication is a condition when excessive Nitrogen in the air fall to bodies of water. When these massive amounts accumulate in lakes or seas, they induce the growth of too many algae. This will result in the depletion of oxygen in the bodies of water, causing the death of animal species in it.
The effects of air pollution pose threats to the Earth and its entire population.
Why It Is Important
To further stress how pressing a concern air pollution is, let’s delve into these topics. First, let us find out why it is crucial to study the issue. Second, let us address the question of why it is necessary to breathe in clean air. Third, let us discuss why it is vital to take actions to prevent or lessen air pollution.
Awareness of The Problem
Air pollution is like the big elephant inside the room that everyone ignores. Well, not everyone. Most people think that the problem of air pollution is not their responsibility. While others believe that lessening or preventing it is an impossibility.
Knowing the ‘enemy’ will help us to analyze its behavior and enable us to learn how to control it. So monitoring air pollution is vital so we can identify peaks or falls that allow us to control it.
It’s crucial that we learn about this issue, no matter how unpleasant it may be.
Importance of Clean Air
Let’s start at the cellular level.
When we breathe in clean air, we take that inside our lungs and our cells. Our bodies need fresh, clean air for our cells to reproduce in a properly. Oxygen also gives energy to our cells, allowing it to function in a more efficient manner. Oxygen supply, along with other nutrients in the body, enables our cells to expel toxins.
Let’s magnify this scenario by a billion-fold to represent the population on Earth. This will give way to a chain of positive events that will benefit the entire society as a whole.
Increase in public health (for human, plant, and animal population)
Improvement in the performance body and goal-oriented functions
A general decrease in all the ill effects listed above (like climate change, acid rain, etc.)
Value of Taking Action
The reduction and prevention of air pollution shouldn’t fall only at the hands of a select few.
Like its effects starting at the cellular level, the solution should also begin at the core. Every individual, every government, and business should strive to take steps against it. No matter how small it is, ensuring to make strides in preventing it should come as natural as breathing.
Timeline of the Issue
While this concern may seem like a modern-day issue, history will beg to differ. We discuss the significant events that took place in the past to help us better understand why it is what is today. But delving into the earliest recordings of air pollution will bring us into a hazy past. So let’s start in the 19th century during the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
During this time, it was Great Britain that experienced the most pollution in the world. This was due to its constant use and burning of sea coal, which they found in large outcroppings near the NE coasts. The country made a few strides, although ineffectual, in attempts to control the issue.
1819 – Great Britain declared that furnaces and engines could reduce smoke and gases.
1843 – Great Britain recommended a bill to deal with nuisances from furnaces and engines. None were ever enacted, though.
1845 – Great Britain stated no law could regulate the fireplaces of ordinary homes in London. They decided this after taking into consideration their current knowledge.
1873 – London experienced its first thick and persistent fog laden with soot and sulfur. This resulted in 650 deaths.
1880 – London experienced a three-day smog in January, which resulted in 1176 deaths.
1881 – Chicago passed the First American Smoke Ordinance. This declared that the emissions from the smokestacks of any boat or chimney were a nuisance.
1905 – An oxygen-starved Londoner termed the term ‘smog.’
1930 – Belgium experienced a large-scale smog which resulted in 80 deaths and 6,000 people taking ill.
1943 – The first episode of Los Angeles smog occurred. It was at first believed as a Japanese chemical warfare attack. Days later, they realized it was actually a direct result of the influx of cars and industry in the city. To be more specific, it came from the fumes from the tailpipes of their very own vehicles. The thick fog affected three city blocks with stinging eyes and running noses. There were no reported deaths.
1948 – A lethal haze blanketed over Donora, Pennsylvania. Several days later, 7,000 people experienced cardiovascular or respiratory problems. This number accounts for almost half of its entire population at the time. People found it difficult to breathe. This resulted in the death of 20 people from asphyxiation.
1952 – The Great Smog of 1952 affected the British capital of London. A combination of cold weather, windless conditions, and airborne pollutants prompted this event. It lasted for four December days. This resulted in 4,000 deaths and 100,000 people who fell to respiratory tract illnesses.
1956 – The British parliament passed the Clean Air Act as a response to the Great Smog of 1952. This introduced measures to reduce air pollution.
1963 – The U.S. government passed the Clean Air Act in an attempt to control air pollution at a national level.
Today, technology has allowed experts to make leaps and bounds in the study of our planet’s health.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a team called the Ozone Monitoring Team. They sit aboard the Aura satellite and specialize in finding ‘fingerprints’ or gases. These gases clutter the atmosphere and are visible images on Earth’s ozone layer.
What Businesses Can Do
Businesses all around the world contribute to a whole lot of the air’s contamination. The silver lining is they can reverse the situation and help save the environment.
The key is to rethink the process.
What procedures within your daily conduct of the business can you change? Can doing this alteration for the long-term be workable? Will you be able to commit to eco-friendly contribution to the community?
Use of Renewable Fuel
This will address the most significant cause, the burning of fossil fuels. The most significant step your business can take is to move away from the use of fossil fuels to produce energy. You can instead invest in renewable sources of energy. This can include solar, water, wind, and geothermal sources. This will allow you to produce the power you need without harming the environment.
Conservation of Energy
As vital as producing clean energy, businesses should strive to make use of power in an efficient way. Conserving energy consumption will decrease the use of it. In turn, the need to keep producing it reduces also.
Self-Check and Compliance with Legislation
Companies should perform regular self-checks to measure the level of gaseous waste emissions. You can invest in monitoring instruments that measure air quality to aid in this step.
Ensure, also, that you are following the regulations set by the city or state in which it operates. The laws are there for a reason. So, complying with the legislation will bring invaluable benefits to all parties involved.
You can have your employees make use of shared mobility like car-pools and service buses. Shifting to electric or hydrogen vehicles also help reduce air pollution.
You can lessen your carbon footprint from the get-go by creating ‘green buildings.’ These structures aim to create a workplace that uses resources in a responsibly.
Monitor and Regulate Own Emissions
That is to say, pollutants coming from the daily grind of the personnel. Ensure your workers are well aware of the health risks involved in their work. This applies particularly to workers who work daily with gases or dust and smoke.
- Don’t Overlook Housekeeping
It’s crucial to set procedures in the proper handling of hazardous substances. Ensure thorough and regular cleaning of all machinery and equipment. Make sure also that the workplace environment is well-ventilated.
- Substitute Materials
If your company is still using toxic materials, you should switch to better options. Investing in quality will pay off in the end. This will lessen the production of waste emissions and health hazards.
- Reuse Materials
Wherever possible, you should aim to reuse materials to reduce toxic waste. Distill used solvents and keep using old cardboard boxes that can still serve a purpose.
Reusing materials will reduce the amount of waste for burning by incinerators. It will also allow the use of materials to their fullest extent.
Why Should a Business Care?
Why should it matter to a business if polluted air envelops the world they evolve in?
Well, in a nutshell, air pollution is bad for business.
Adverse Effect to Labor Force
The World Health Organization has gone as far as calling air pollution as the ‘new tobacco.’ This is how destructive it is to our health. Traffic congestion and pollution not only disrupt normal business operations. Studies show that poor outdoor air quality affects job performance negatively. This is true even for employees who work all day indoors.
It also contributes to employees taking in more sick days. The air pollution in Central London, for instance, causes over 656,000 sick days per year. This, in turn, will result in billions of dollars of lost labor income. Thus, plummeting profits for your company.
Cities with polluted air also become less attractive career and migration options. This does not bode well for any business. Particularly those that need massive manpower to operate.
Negative Brand Reputation
Most businesses today contribute to the increase in air pollution. Daily business conduct involves the manufacturing of products or distribution of commodities. These need fuel to produce energy. But, most companies will dismiss this. They remain of the opinion that it is somebody else’s responsibility.
Some governments have taken it upon themselves to act against air pollution. New Zealand, for example, has set national standards as a basis in the monitoring of smoke and dust. They track air pollution and report them to the public if the results exceed the standards set. They came up with two methods that will pinpoint the specific source of the hazard.
It is not such a far-fetched assumption that the rest of the world will someday be able to emulate these methods. Especially with the speed at which technology is advancing.
If this were to happen, governments could hold businesses responsible for emitting pollutants. There will be full transparency, so the business’ consuming public will scrutinize them.
This scenario can only lead to a business’ eventual downfall.
Irresistible Business Offer
If your company aims to support the community’s well-being, you can set priorities. You’ll be able to build momentum and create a more significant impact on society. Investing in solutions that address air pollution will help the environment, too. This is a two-for-one deal, a business offer your company would be remiss to resist.