Air is the most basic need for the human life since it supports life and its existence. People, plants, and animals cannot survive without air. Air is readily available to all living things and it also forms a layer of insulation against the harmful rays of the sun and the excessive heat. However, in the contemporary society, there is increased environmental degradation with pollution of the environment being the most alarming (Agarwal, 100). The human activities as well as natural factors have led to the increased air, water and other forms of pollutions. Air pollution is the most alarming since it has a direct impact on life and also poses a threat to the existence and also on the quality of life for the next generations. The WHO defines air pollution as the contamination of the both the indoor and the outdoor environments by any form of chemical, biological or even environmental agents that may lead to the altering of the natural characteristics if the atmosphere (Venkatesan). Human beings are mandated with the responsibility of taking care of nature since it is the nature that supports their existence. Therefore, there is need for every individual to participate and also play a role in preventing and addressing air pollution by all means.
The earth is surrounded by a layer that acts like a blanket of air composed of various gases and is collectively referred to as the atmosphere. It is the atmosphere that plays a crucial role in protecting the earth and also allows for the continued existence of life. Without the layer of gases, then all life on earth would be roasted or burnt up by the intense heat from the sun during the day or even be frozen from the low temperatures that would be experienced over the night (Agarwal, 97). Any form of additions of particles or chemicals to the air may distort the natural balance and ultimately result in adverse consequences to the living things on earth.
All the things that may pollute the air are referred to as the pollutants and may include nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, organic compounds as well as sand or dust particles. The two primary types of pollutants are the primary pollutants and the secondary pollutants.
1. Primary pollutants
The primary pollutants are the gases or particle that may be released to the air directly making it unclean. They include the carbon monoxide from pollutants such as automobile exhausts and also sulfur dioxide that may be released from combustion of coal. The major primary pollutants are:
The most common pollutant is the sulfur dioxide which is chemical compound that may be produced by some industrial processes as well as natural causes such as volcanoes. Coal and petroleum are energy sources that are majorly being used in the contemporary society but they often lead to the massive release of sulfur compounds to the atmosphere as a result of their combustion in engines and other areas. The continued oxidation of sulfur dioxide may lead to the formation of acid rain. It is because, the chemical reaction leads to the formation of H2SO4 which is an acid. It is a significant concern over the environmental impact of petroleum and coal are major en energy sources and hence have a major environmental impact.
Nitrogen oxides are the next primary pollutants. Particularly nitrogen dioxides are released from high temperature combustion. They are also produced during extreme weather conditions such as thunderstorms and electric discharges (Vallero, 45).
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are the major outdoor air pollutants. They may be categorized as either methane or non-methane. Methane is highly produced in greenhouses and majorly contributes to global warming. There are other hydrocarbon VOCs that are significant greenhouse gases due to their role in creating ozone and also prolonging the retaining of methane in the atmosphere. The effect may vary with the quality of air in a given area (Vallero, 49).
Toxic metals are the other major pollutants. The metals such as lead and mercury that may have an effect on the air directly. Their compounds are also very dangerous and cause a lot of harm to the atmosphere.
Carbon monoxide is a very toxic, odorless and non-irritating gas that is usually produced from incomplete combustion of fuel such as the natural gas, wood or coal. The exhausts of vehicles are a significant source of the pollutant in the environment today.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the other major pollutants. These are harmful to the ozone layer and are usually banned from use. They are also released from machines such as refrigerators, air conditioners and also aerosol sprays; they may later raise to the stratosphere where they get into contact with other gases further damaging the ozone layer (Vallero, 75).
2. Secondary pollutants
The secondary pollutants may arise from the mixing up of various pollutants released into the air resulting in a chemical reaction. Secondary pollutants are not emitted directly. One major example of a secondary pollutant is photochemical smog. Air pollutants may be in the form of solid particles, gases, and even liquid droplets. Some pollutants may also be both primary and secondary since they are emitted directly and formed from other primary pollutants.
Effects of air pollution
There are a series of pollutants that have indications of being harmful to the human health and also the environment. In the majority of the areas in Europe, America and also China, the pollutants are majorly of products of combustion from industries, power generations and also motor vehicle traffic. The pollutants may lead to a severe and at times fatal effect not only to the immediate vicinity or areas of the sources but can also travel long distances.
Heath effects of air pollution
The elevated exposure as a result of increased accumulation of pollutants in the atmosphere may lead to symptoms and conditions that have effects on the human health (Kampa and Castanas, 112). Dangerous chemicals and compounds in the environment such as benzene or vinyl chloride, when released in large amounts to the air, may lead to birth defects, cancer, long-term injury of lungs as well as have effects on the nervous systems and the human brain that inhale it. In some cases, some chemicals may be so dangerous that they may cause death out of breathing them (Kampa and Castanas, 112). Breathing in such contaminants may also make the eyes and nose burn, and this may eventually trigger respiratory problems especially so for individuals that have asthma and other respiratory related complications. There is also research that indicates that the continued exposure and use of cars, power plants and factories have led to asthma attacks. Pollutants in the environment have also been attaché to other symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, breathing difficulties as well as the chest pains. It also leads to an increased risk of heart attack (Kampa and Castanas, 114).
Air pollution can result in a variety of environmental effects. It may result in acid rain which is precipitation that contains high amounts of sulfuric and nitric acids. The acids fall on the earth either as wet precipitation such as rain, snow or fog or dry precipitation such as gas. The wind carries some of them to large areas. The acid rain may lead to severe damaging of the trees, acidify the soils and water bodies. As a result, it may make the water unsuitable for some fish and also other wildlife. Moreover, it leads to the increased decay of buildings, statues, and sculptures. Acid rain is attached to the damaging of Massachusetts Rivers, soils, lakes, and ponds that may eventually lead to damaging of wildlife and the forests (Agarwal, 112).
Toxic pollutants in the air also have an effect on wildlife. It is because; they may deposit in soils and also waters leading to a negative impact on wildlife. The animals may experience health complications due to the exposure to toxic products. The toxic air may contribute to birth defects, reproductive failure and diseases in animals (Agarwal, 113). The toxins that break down slowly in the environment may be of particular concern on the aquatic ecosystem. It is these that accumulate in sediments and may biomagnify in tissues of animals.
The release of some pollutants that affect the ozone layer mat lead to ozone depletion. At the Earth’s level, ozone are pollutants that may be harmful to life. However, at the stratosphere level, it may result in the formation of the ozone layer that protects life from direct and damaging rays of the sun such as the ultraviolet rays. However, the ozone layer is also destroyed by man-made chemicals such as halons and chlorofluorocarbons. The hazardous substances may be contained in coolants, fire extinguishers, solvents, aerosol propellants and also pesticides (Jacobson, 73).
It may also lead to the global climate change and also global warming. It is because the earth’s atmosphere contains some delicate balance of the naturally occurring gases that may trap some of the sun’s heat on the earth’s surface (Jacobson, 73). The pollutants may be released to the air may lead to causing an imbalance through the production of excessive greenhouse gases including methane and carbon dioxide. It ultimately leads to the earth’s atmosphere trapping more of the sun’s heat causing a rise in the average temperature of the earth through a phenomenon called global warming. Global warming may have an adverse and significant impact on the human, agricultural, wildlife, and other natural resources.
Air pollution may also have severe effects on the economy of a nation. It is because it leads to health consequences and also affects the environment of which majority of economic activities is pegged upon. If the health of individuals is affected then, their productivity is reduced hence affecting the economy (Venkatesan). Moreover, air pollution may lead to a reduction in agricultural and commercial forests that yield millions of dollars annually.
In conclusion, air pollution is a global problem and does not spare any individual. It is imperative to realize that it is essential to protect and safeguard the environment to minimize the release of pollutants to the environment. There is also a need for every individual to come up and also take up environmental conservation mechanisms that lead to the reduction of air pollution. It is because; air pollution has adverse and devastating effects on the populations and the environment. The pollutants also travel long distances regardless of where the source of pollutant may have been leading to effects to other regions. Hence, the need for every individual to participate and also play a role in preventing and addressing air pollution by all means.