Air pollution remains one of the most urgent and serious problems facing the world today. Research studies conducted in the past have clearly indicated that in addition to harming the environment, the effects of air pollution on human health are particularly adverse. In this text, I discuss air pollution, its causes, and effects. Further, I propose solutions that could be embraced to rein in the problem of air pollution.
Air Pollution: An Overview
Air pollution in the words of Miller (2005, pp.347) "is the presence of chemicals in the atmosphere in concentrations high enough to harm organisms and materials (such as metals and stone used in buildings and statues) and to alter climate." As the author further points out, the effects of air pollution could be serious or simply annoying. In the past, various measures have been taken across the world to decrease air pollutant emissions in an attempt to improve air quality while at the same time mitigating against the adverse effects of air pollution to not only the environment but also to humans and other living organisms. Some of these measures include but they are not limited to the establishment of various bodies charged with monitoring levels of pollution. In the U.S., these bodies include the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pollution standards that have been set in the past in an attempt to minimize human and environmental exposure to pollutants have had varying levels of success. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council -- NRDC (2013), although there are some significant gains that have been made as far as the improvement of air quality is concerned, thanks to Clean Air Act programs, quite a significant number of "fossil fuel power plants, boilers, and cement plants continue to treat our skies like sewers." For this reason, there exists a need to embrace measures deemed more proactive and inclusive in an attempt to rein in the air pollution problem.
Sources of Air Pollution
There are many sources of air pollution. These could either be natural or human. In seeking to highlight the main sources of air pollution, I will take into consideration both gaseous and solid pollutants whose harm to buildings, vegetation, and living organisms has been proven in the past.
Human Sources of Air Pollution
Throughout the world, gaseous and solid pollutants from automobiles are regarded leading sources of air pollution. According to Miller and Spoolman (2011, pp.470), carbon monoxide which is one of the gaseous motor vehicle emissions "forms during the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing materials." Industries are also regarded leading contributors to air pollution. This is more so the case given that there are many chemical plants that release significant levels of harmful gases and particles like copper oxides and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. As Miller and Spoolman (2011) note, nitrogen oxide is a product of the reaction between oxygen and nitrogen that takes place under high temperatures in industrial plants and motor vehicle engines. Some human agricultural practices have also in the past been identified as sources of air pollution. For instance, burning of forests and bushes to create land for cultivation leads to the emission of carbon monoxide (Miller and Spoolman, 2011). It is also important to note that paddy fields emit significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Other human activities than lead to the generation of significant amounts of suspended particulate matter include but they are not limited to stone crushing and mining.
Natural Sources of Air Pollution
However, as I have pointed out elsewhere in this text, sources of air pollution could also be natural. Some of the natural sources of sulfur compounds - a leading cause of air pollution, include but they are not limited to animal waste, volcanoes, as well as wind erosion. Apart from paddy fields (which I have identified elsewhere in this text as a source of pollution linked to human activity), the digestion of food by animals such as livestock leads to the emission of methane (Miller and Spoolman, 2011). It is also important to note that the acidic plume emitted from volcanoes is yet another natural air pollutant. Forest fires also lead to the emission of significant levels of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. Figure 2 depicts a burning forest. Fumes produced in such a case contain significant amounts of carbon monoxide and particulate matter. When combined, these natural sources contribute significantly to air pollution.
Effects of Air Pollution
As I have already pointed out elsewhere in this text, the effects of air pollution (both to the environment and to living organisms) could either be serious or simply annoying/irritating. To begin with, air pollution could affect the health of human beings in a number of ways. Some of the less serious effects of air pollution to human beings include but they are not limited to eye, nasal, as well as throat irritations. Nebel and Wright (1993) categories the effects of air pollution on human lungs into three, i.e. chronic, acute, and carcinogenic. When it comes to the chronic effects, the authors point out that "pollutants cause gradual deterioration of a variety of physiological functions over a period of years" (Nebel and Wright, 1993, pp.340). Chronic effects as the authors further note affect almost every individual living in urban areas where significant air pollution occurs. Over time, those exposed to pollutants like sulfur dioxide develop chronic conditions like bronchitis. While exposure (chronic) to a gas like nitrogen oxide could negatively affect the proper functioning of the immune system, long-term exposure to carbon monoxide is considered a contributing factor to heart disease (Nebel and Wright, 1993).
In regard to the acute effects of air pollution, Nebel and Wright (1993) point out that in this case, pollutants trigger reactions that could be regarded life-threatening within a relatively short period of time -- i.e. within a couple of hours. In this particular case, "intense air pollution puts an additional stress on the body, and if a person is already in a weakened condition (e.g., elderly, asthmatic), this additional stress may be fatal" (Nebel and Wright, 1993, pp.340).
Lastly, we have the carcinogenic effects in which case Nebel and Wright (1993) point out that in some instances, pollutants could trigger cellular changes that lead to cancer. This is more so the case when pollutants have a heavy organic and metal constitution. Cigarette smoking according to the authors is a pollution factor that has over time been undeniably linked to cancer.
Air pollution also has a negative impact on not only the environment but also on materials and aesthetics. According to Nebel and Wright (1993), pollutants such as photochemical oxidants and sulfur dioxide have been known to damage forests, orchards, as well as farm crops. Deterioration as well as discoloring of building as well as statues has been attributed to some specific pollutants. For instance, as Nebel and Wright (1993) point out, sulfur could dramatically accelerate corrosion of metals. For this reason, it is not uncommon to encounter discolored and corroded metallic building materials as well as statutes in areas with high sulfur emissions. Figure 1 shows a statue that has lost its fine facial texture as a result of the corrosive effects of acids present in some air pollutants. The aesthetic value of clear blue skies is also wiped out by decreased visibility (see figure 3) as a result of gaseous and solid air pollutants (Nebel and Wright, 1993).
Proposed Solutions to the Air Pollution Problem
It is clear from the effects of air pollution highlighted above there is a need to take decisive steps towards containing air pollution. Instead of revisiting the solutions that have been offered in the past to rein in air pollution, I will in this section offer a structured approach to the problem of air pollution. In my opinion, efforts to reduce air pollution should be championed at three key levels, i.e. At the individual level, state/federal level, and the intergovernmental/global level. At the individual level, individual citizens should be encouraged to help reduce air pollution by amongst other things driving less. The state/federal level of air pollution control should largely be concerned with the formulation as well as enforcement of policies aimed at reining in the problem of air pollution. This could be done by requiring industries to halt or reduce the emission of harmful gases as well as particles into the atmosphere. Entities that fail to adhere to the policies outlined at this level should be reprimanded and/or punished. On the other hand, the intergovernmental/global level of air pollution control should be charged with the monitoring of individual governments to ensure that in addition to developing strategies aimed at reducing air pollution, they also enforce laws that seek to limit air pollution. The intergovernmental/global level of air pollution control could also propose a raft of measures to be adhered to by individual governments in their efforts to rein in air pollution.
In conclusion, it should be noted that given the adverse effects of air pollution, the relevance of reducing the same cannot be…