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THE DANGERS OF AIR POLLUTION AND WAYS TO ADDRESS IT

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Air pollution has taken a significant toll on the health of our planet considering the adverse effect on the environment and human health. The rising cases are alarming and if not properly checked, could become a major cause of the increase in mortality rate of all living things.
Research by the World Health Organization [WHO] shows that there are 4.2 million deaths yearly due to outdoor air pollution from sources like industries and 3.8 million deaths from domestic air pollution, amassing to 8 million deaths yearly. The Organisation further states that the combined effects of household and outdoor pollution cause millions of premature deaths annually mostly resulting from stroke, lung cancer, acute respiratory dysfunction, and infections. If the death rate continues progressively, we may become the next endangered species in 20 years’ time. It is worrisome that 9 out of 10 people live below WHO’s guidelines for combating this menace. Thus, we may end up becoming the architect of our own destruction if urgent steps are not taken to address the issue of air pollution.


DEFINITION

The WHO defines air pollution as the contamination of the ambient and outdoor environment by the introduction of any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. In other words, air pollution is the introduction of harmful agents that adversely alters the normal air we breathe. Major air pollutants include particulate matter, Carbon Monoxide, Ozone, Nitrogen, Dioxide and Sulfur Dioxide amongst others.

 

TYPES OF AIR POLLUTANTS AND THEIR SOURCES

While the effects of air pollution are as important as the ways of mitigating it, understanding the agents that cause it is equally necessary. They may exist as solids, gases, or liquids and could be man-made or natural as well as primary or secondary. The 6 major air pollutants are:

  1. Carbon Monoxide: Common sources are automobile emissions, fires and industrial processes.
  2. Particulate Matter: Primary sources are construction sites, fires, smokestacks and untarred roads while secondary sources are the reactions between gaseous chemicals emitted from automobiles and power plants.
  3. Lead [Pb]: Common sources are metal processes, fossil fuel combustion and waste incineration.
  4. Sulfur Dioxide: Common sources are automobile emissions, industrial processes, electricity generation and fossil fuel combustion.
  5. Ozone [O3]: Common sources are Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from industrial and automobile emissions, gasoline vapors, electrical utilities, and chemical solvent.
  6. Nitrogen Oxides: Common sources are Industrial processes, electricity generation and automobile emissions.
  7. EFFECTS OF AIR POLLUTION
    The effects of air pollution are far-reaching and too numerous to compile in a single list. However, the prominent ones include:
  8. Respiratory infection and dysfunction such as bronchitis, pneumonia and irritation of the nose.
  9. Other respiratory diseases such as asthma, coughs and lung cancer
  10. It aggravates existing respiratory and cardiac conditions and could cause long term damage to nerves, brain, lungs and other organs.
  11. Increased mortality rate.
  12. Formation of smog which exacerbates heart diseases and reduces mental function capabilities.
  13. Air pollution contributes to the formation of acid rain when nitrogen and Sulphur oxides react with water vapour and oxygen to produce acidic effects on buildings, cars and plants and animals exposed to it.
  14. Air pollution leads to a loss of biodiversity, decreased reproduction, and neurological problems in vertebrates.
  15. It interferes with the plant’s ability to respire, leading to increased susceptibility to other environmental stressors.
  16. It contributes to global warming which is the increase in ambient temperatures due to the presence of green house gases in the atmosphere.
  17. SOME AIR POLLUTION FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW
  18. Effect of air pollution on individuals is solely based on the type of pollutant that the individual is exposed to as well as the level of exposure, the individual’s health status, and genetics.
  19. Outdoor air pollution alone causes between 2.1 to 4.2 million deaths globally on an annual basis.
  20. Indoor pollution and poor urban air quality are listed as two of the world’s worst and most toxic pollution problems.
  21. 90 percent of the world’s population breathe dirty air
  22. Productivity losses and decreased quality of life caused by air pollution are estimated to cost the world’s economy $5 trillion annually.
  23. In 2020, air pollution was estimated to have caused cause 1 in every 8 deaths.
  24. In India, the WHO estimated 500,000 deaths annually resulting from air pollution.
  25. HOW TO COMBAT AIR POLLUTION
  26. Minimize air pollution from cars: One of the biggest emitters of nitrogen oxides is road transportation. Oxides of nitrogen are closely monitored air pollutants with an adverse effect on lung development and l life expectancy of living things. Here are a few ways to reduce air pollution from vehicles:
    a. When you are out for a drive, do not idle your vehicle and try to minimize the number of trips taken by combining tasks
    b. Do not speed unnecessarily or drive aggressively because that only produces more emissions.
    c. Be sure to keep your car tuned and regularly replace air filters at recommended intervals while generally checking the health of your car. Also, check your tires as it plays a huge role in the number of gases emitted by your car, When the tires are not properly inflated, your car needs to burn more fuel and therefore pollute the environment on a larger scale.
    d. Gasoline cars are more preferred to diesel as they emit less harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
  27. Save energy: The International Energy Agency released a report with the key statement that “Air pollution is an energy problem”. The burning of fossil fuels for energy production releases potent pollutants such as Sulfur dioxide, Nitrogen oxide and Mercury. All substances mentioned above are known to have negative effects on human health and the environment if not properly disposed. Here are some ways to reduce air pollution while saving energy.
    a. Switch to renewable energy: Renewables are a much cleaner option for power generation. For example, photovoltaic solar panels produce energy without emitting gases. So, if you switch to solar energy, you would lower your emissions significantly.
    b. Use appliances smartly: Run your washing machine only when full and if possible, at night. This will help reduce energy consumption.
    c. Minimize the use of air conditioners: Use them in hot weather and only when necessary. Some Air-conditioning plants make use of gases that deplete the ozone layer. Although there are strict regulations guiding their use, you never can tell. Air conditioners need much more power than fans do. Give a try to strategically placed fans and open windows at night to cool down your room.
  28. Choose sustainable products: Consumption patterns and product choice affects the level of air pollution globally. A study published in the International Journal of Science highlighted that 22 percent of premature deaths caused by air pollution happened in countries that produce cheap goods for export to developed countries. Consuming less and buying more eco-friendly and sustainable products could help curb the effects and problems of air pollution. In places where intensive farming, both livestock and plant farming is practiced, farming becomes the main emitter of ammonia and other nitrogen-containing compounds.
  29. Grow and eat organic products: Now, the use of pesticides and fertilizers introduces harmful substances into the air. The Earth Institute of Columbia University warns that when these pollutants come together, they produce fine materials that are harmful to the human respiratory system. Organic agriculture is not entirely emission-free as well, but the amounts of pollutants are lower, which is why it is advisable to buy organically grown foods rather than the conventional foods
  30. Plant Trees: Trees can remove particulate pollutants from the air, they remove between 850 to 2,000 tons of harmful particles from the urban air each year which is a significant attempt to reduce air pollution. Other than being air filters, they are also great at cooling temperatures down by a few degrees which help in keeping the air clean. So, afforestation is highly recommended for people and governments.
    Other ways to combat air pollution include:
  31. Recycling and buying recycled products.
  32. Keeping indoor plants that help in air purification.
  33. Raising the awareness.
  34. Using natural products and essential oils.
  35. Keeping the humidity within your home or indoor space low.
    Air purification is an essential task, necessary for our existence and comfort. It is therefore necessary that all individuals and institutions work collectively towards ensuring the circulation of unpolluted air globally.

 

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