Air pollution introduction essay

Anything people do that involves burning things combustion , using household or industrial chemicals substances that cause chemical reactions and may release toxic gases in the process , or producing large amounts of dust has the potential to cause air pollution. Step back a century or two and the cause of most air pollution was easy to identify: filthy factories, powering the Industrial Revolution.

Today, tighter air pollution laws, greater environmental awareness , and determined campaigns mounted by local communities make it far harder—though by no means impossible—for factories to pollute in post-industrial nations such as the United States and Britain. Where, then, does modern air pollution come from? By far the biggest culprit today is traffic, though power plants and factories continue to make an important contribution.


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Before we start laying the blame for air pollution, let's remember one very important thing: most of us drive or travel in cars, use electricity , and buy goods made in factories. If we're pointing fingers, ultimately we're going to have to point them at ourselves.

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There are over one billion cars on the road today—one for every two people in rich countries such as the United States. Virtually all of them are powered by gasoline and diesel engines that burn petroleum to release energy.

Petroleum is made up of hydrocarbons large molecules built from hydrogen and carbon and, in theory , burning them fully with enough oxygen should produce nothing worse than carbon dioxide and water. In practice, fuels aren't pure hydrocarbons and engines don't burn them cleanly. As a result, exhausts from engines contain all kinds of pollution, notably particulates soot of various sizes , carbon monoxide CO, a poisonous gas , nitrogen oxides NO x , volatile organic compounds VOCs , and lead—and indirectly produce ozone.

Mix this noxious cocktail together and energize it with sunlight and you get the sometimes brownish, sometimes blueish fog of pollution we call smog , which can hang over cities for days on end. Vehicles don't release pollution only from their tailpipes. Brake and tire wear and tear, the slow rubbing away of the road surface as tires rumble over it, and stirring up of the dust and debris on top of it also release significant amounts of PM 10 and PM 2. Photo: Brown smog lingers over Denver, Colorado.

Smog isn't the stuff that pumps from a car's tailpipe or drifts from a factory smokestack—it's the nasty brown or blue haze that builds up over a city as a result. Smog a combination of the words "smoke" and "fog" forms when sunlight acts on a cocktail of pollutant gases such as nitrogen and sulfur oxides, unburned hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide; that's why it's sometimes called photochemical smog the energy in light causes the chemical reaction that makes smog.

One of the most harmful constituents of smog is a toxic form of oxygen called ozone, which can cause serious breathing difficulties and even, sometimes, death. When smog is rich in ozone, it tends to be a blueish color, otherwise it's more likely to be brown. Although smog can happen in any busy city, it's a particular problem in places such as Los Angeles where the local climate influenced by the ocean and neighboring mountains regularly causes what's known as a temperature inversion.

Normally, air gets colder the higher up you go but in a temperature inversion the opposite happens: a layer of warm air traps a layer of cold air nearer the ground. This acts like a lid over a cloud of smog and stops it from rising and drifting away. Largely because of their traffic levels, smog afflicts many of the world's busiest cities, including Athens , Beijing , Delhi , Madrid , Mexico City , Milan , Paris , and Tokyo.

This chart compares annual mean PM 2. Chart drawn using data from Ambient outdoor air pollution in cities database courtesy of World Health Organization, which was the newest available data at the time this article was last checked and updated November Renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines are helping us generate a bigger proportion of our power every year, but the overwhelming majority of electricity around 70 percent in the United States, for example is still produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil, mostly in conventional power plants.

Just like car engines, power plants should theoretically produce nothing worse than carbon dioxide and water; in practice, fuels are dirty and they don't burn cleanly, so power plants produce a range of air pollutants, notably sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates.

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They also release huge amounts of carbon dioxide, a key cause of global warming and climate change when it rises and accumulates in the atmosphere. We discuss this a bit more down below. Plants that produce the goods we all rely on often release small but significant quantities of pollution into the air. Industrial plants that produce metals such as aluminum and steel , refine petroleum, produce cement, synthesize plastic , or make other chemicals are among those that can produce harmful air pollution.

Most plants that pollute release small amounts of pollution continually over a long period of time, though the effects can be cumulative gradually building up. Sometimes industrial plants release huge of amounts of air pollution accidentally in a very short space of time. One notable case happened in Bhopal, India in December , when a large chemical plant run by the Union Carbide company released a poisonous gas methyl isocyanate that hung over the local area, killing around people and injuring thousands more. Wikipedia's article on the Bhopal Disaster gives a comprehensive account of what happened.

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Essay on Air Pollution: Causes, Effects and Control of Air Pollution

Although traffic, power plants, and industrial and chemical plants produce the majority of Earth's manmade air pollution, many other factors contribute to the problem. In some parts of the world, people still rely on burning woodfuel for their cooking and heating, and that produces indoor air pollution that can seriously harm their health solar cookers are one solution to that problem. In some areas, garbage is incinerated instead of being recycled or landfilled and that can also produce significant air pollution unless the incinerators are properly designed to operate at a high enough temperature even then, there is a toxic residue left behind that must be disposed of somehow.

Air pollution can harm the health of people and animals, damage crops or stop them growing properly, and make our world unpleasant and unattractive in a variety of other ways. We know air pollution is a bad thing without even thinking about it. Have you ever coughed when a truck drove past belching out its sooty exhaust? Instinctively, you cough to clear your lungs and protect your body and you might even cover your face with your handkerchief or sleeve to filter the air until it feels safe to breathe deeply again.

You don't have to be told that pollution like this might harm your health to want to steer clear of it: your body takes action automatically. The only trouble is, we can't always see or smell air pollution, tell when it's affecting us, or know how it might harm us days, months, or even years in the future. Photo: Air pollution can cause a variety of lung diseases and other respiratory problems.

This chest X ray shows a lung disease called emphysema in the patient's left lung. A variety of things can cause it, including smoking and exposure to air pollution. Sometimes the connection between air pollution and human health is obvious, as in the Bhopal Disaster.

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Another notable incident happened in London, England in when thick, deadly pollution known as the Great Smog , caused by people burning coal in home fires and coal-fired power plants, killed an estimated people. Other times, it's much more difficult to make the link.

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Some estimates suggest perhaps 10—20 percent of cancers are caused by air pollution of one kind or another, but cancers can take a long time to develop and many other things can cause them too. Proving a direct link with a particular kind of air pollution say, a garbage incinerator in your community or a neighbor who persistently burns plastic on garden bonfires is very difficult.

World Health Organization , According to the World Health Organization WHO , air pollution is one of the world's biggest killers: it causes around four million people to die prematurely each year. Many of these deaths happen in developing countries over half a million in India alone , but wealthier industrial nations suffer too: in the United States, for example, around 41, people a year are estimated to die early because of air pollution.

Air Pollution

Imagine how much media coverage there would be if several million people that's roughly the population of Houston, Texas or the West Midlands conurbation in England were killed in a terrorist incident or an earthquake. Because air pollution kills quietly and relentlessly, and its finger is hard to detect on the trigger, people barely seem to notice—or care. Deaths aren't the only human consequence of air pollution.


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For every person who dies, hundreds or thousands more suffer breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis. Workers exposed to high levels of dust sometimes suffer years of misery before dying from illnesses such as silicosis. Farming is as much of an art as a science; crops can thrive—or fail—for all sorts of reasons. One of the things that characterized the 20th century was the huge growth in industrial agriculture —using fertilizers, pesticides, and so on to increase crop yields and feed the world's ever-growing population.

These aren't the only chemicals that crops are exposed to, however.

We know that air pollution in common with water pollution can seriously affect the growth of plants. At one end of the spectrum, it's easy to find chemical residues everything from toxic heavy metals such as lead to cocktails of brake fluids and other chemicals in plants that grow alongside highways.

At the opposite extreme, the huge increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide now causing global warming and climate change is expected to have a major impact on the world's agriculture reducing crop yields in some places but potentially increasing yields elsewhere. Photo: The stonework on the Parthenon in Athens, Greece has been blackened by particulates from traffic pollution.

Photo by courtesy of U. Geological Survey. Wander the streets of a big city and you'll notice quite quickly how dirty the buildings look, even in areas where there are no factories or power plants. Exhaust fumes from traffic are generally to blame.

Air Pollution

Apart from blackening buildings with soot, they also contribute to acid rain see below that can wear away stonework in a matter of years or decades. Air pollution can happen on every scale, from the local to the global. Sometimes the effects are immediate and happen very near to the thing that caused them; but they can also happen days, months, or even years later—and in other cities, countries, or continents.