Urban Environmental Issue: Air Pollution and How to Combat It
Because of the significant level of urbanization in many parts of the country, the natural landscape has been changed. This has contributed to pollution of the ecosystem, much of which is magnified within the urban environment by the inability for the pollutants to readily and easily escape the population-dense areas in the same way they could in more open, accessible environments. When one compares environmental impact and population distribution, it is not difficult to see that there are serious concerns for the environment in areas where there are more people.
That is worth noting, because pollution of the environment, and specifically the air in that environment, is not just about the damage that can be done to the ecosystem. It is also about damage that occurs to the living things within that ecosystem -- including the human beings who are breathing stagnant, stale, polluted air in an urban environment. While much of this pollution is caused by their own making, there are ways in which the air pollution of urban environments can be reduced. Finding ways to reduce air pollution in urban areas can save lives, lower the number of people battling chronic conditions, and lessen the burden on the health care system and the planet.
Background of the Issue
As more people have collected in urban areas and the significance of that has been seen in the level of air pollution present in those environments, studies have been done in order to determine the true significance and scope of air pollution in an urban setting. Weaver, et al. (2000) addressed this by determining that air pollution had reached record levels, and that a significant amount of that pollution was collecting in the lungs of human beings -- most notably those who lived and worked in urban environments where air pollution levels are commonly seen to be at their highest. The collection of air pollutants in the lungs is a slow and gradual process, but over time it can influence the quality of life of the people who are breathing these pollutants and shorten their lifespan. Air pollution in urban environments can also lead to the development and/or exacerbation of chronic health problems such as asthma, allergies, and numerous heart and lung diseases (Weaver, et al., 2000).
A 2009 report in Science Daily provided information from the American Lung Association stating that 60% of people are at risk from air pollution. That is a significant number of individuals who could be harming their health both in the short- and long-term. There were 186.1 million people in the study, and all lived where levels of air pollution existed (American, 2009). Not every person who lives in an urban setting where there is air pollution will suffer ill effects from it, but when more than half of those people are at risk of health problems from the pollution they are breathing every day, it is time to consider what can be done to help protect these people and keep them and their air healthier. The American Lung Association's State of the Air report shows that some work has been done against air pollution, but that more work is needed because many cities still struggle with it and see it as a serious health hazard to their residents (American, 2009). Board Chairman of the American Lung Association Stephen Nolan has called air pollution a huge threat to human lives (American, 2009).
One of the areas where air pollution is creating a serious problem in urban settings is in the level of ozone that is becoming trapped in the atmosphere. The Science Daily report of 2009, citing the American Lung Association, stated that ozone damages lungs and can cause coughing and gasping, making it harder to breathe (American, 2009). Additionally, a shortened lifespan and asthma attacks are potential problems when breathing in ozone, especially for extended periods of time (Cary, 2008).
Another significant problem area when addressing air pollution is that of particle pollution, which has been described by Raven (2008) as solid matter such as soil particles, dust, soot, sea salt, lead, drops of sulfuric acid, and asbestos. Heavy metals, organic chemicals, and other harmful elements are generally seen in this type of pollution, and they can be disastrous on the lungs and other parts of the body. The toxins are poisonous, and when they are absorbed into the body through getting into the lungs, they can create a number of significant ailments, some of which can be chronic (Raven, 2008). According to the American Lung Association, particle pollution can cause strokes, heart attacks, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and early deaths (American, 2009). The severe and adverse effects of this type of air pollution can also build up over time, so those who live in urban areas where they are commonly breathing these things are more at risk than those who live in more rural areas and/or who only visit urban areas occasionally (Raven, 2008).
Statistics from the American Lung Association have also shown that women, especially those who are age 50 and above, are very vulnerable to urban air pollution (American, 2009). Other groups who have high levels of vulnerability are diesel truck drivers and dockworkers, as they breathe exhaust fumes much more frequently than most people who live in an urban environment. The breathing of these fumes can cause a significant number of medical problems, with lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) being the most common (American, 2009). When researchers in California considered the research into this issue, they tripled their estimated numbers of people facing adverse effects from particle pollution in their state every year (American, 2009).
Defining Urban Air Pollution
Plants, animals, and people all need oxygen to live, but they are getting much more than just oxygen and other gases in the air they breathe. That is especially true in urban areas, because the pollution in those settings puts unhealthy substances into the air. Acid rain, smog, and other environmental problems start to occur, and people have to breathe that in because they need the air in order to survive. Additionally, most of them probably do not think that much about what is in the air they are breathing. Unfortunately, that lack of interest in what is in the air people are breathing has contributed to pollution because people who do not pay attention to what is in their air also do not take the time to fight for cleaner air and require regulation of companies that pollute and cause contamination such as greenhouse gases (Raven, 2008).
With the hole in the ozone layer, greenhouse gases, vehicle emissions, and other types of pollution, people in urban areas are often breathing in a toxic stew of particulates and chemicals that can make them very sick over time or even cause them to die prematurely. According to Raven (2008), there are several different kinds of air-polluting elements, including carbon oxides, sulfur oxides, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and ozone, as well as other air toxins. Soot, dust, oil, asbestos, and nitrogen sulfides are all found in the air in urban environments, due to human creation and the combinations seen from other gases and particulates that find their way to one another in the air in urban communities (Raven, 2008).
It would not be fair to say that human beings account for one hundred percent of the creation of urban air pollution, but it would be fair to say that humans either cause or exacerbate nearly one hundred percent of the pollution in urban settings. Humans either cause pollution directly, or they indirectly make lower grades of pollution worse because of what they are putting into the air that bonds with those lower level pollutants (Raven, 2008).
The Major Pollutants and Their Causes
There are three things that contribute to air pollution: natural elements, human elements, and chemical compounds. While air pollution dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, it has certainly increased throughout time, and the results of that increase are being seen much more often in urban areas than anywhere else (Truffer, et al., 2003). The average person will breathe in 20,000 liters of air on a normal day, and with each breath, he or she is pulling dangerous elements that are present into the atmosphere into his or her lungs (Truffer, et al., 2003). This can be seen as a global crisis, with urban areas all over the world as the epicenters of the epidemic, and both indoor and outdoor air being part of the problem (Truffer, et al., 2003). In order to better understand the issues that the world is facing with the current level of air pollution in urban areas, it is necessary to address what goes into pollution and how the different things that cause pollution are controlled. There are some areas over which more control can be exercised than others.
For example, natural elements cannot easily be removed from…