Polluted air: know everything! How pollution fog, soot, greenhouse gases and other major air pollutants affect the planet and our health ?
Polluted air: what is air pollution ?
Air pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the air. They are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole.
National environmental protection agencies around the world are authorized to protect public health. Indeed, regulations relating to the emission of harmful air pollutants are constantly being made. Do they have a positive effect ?
What are the causes of air pollution?
Energy consumption and production is where most of the air pollution comes from. Burning fossil fuels releases gases and chemicals into the air. And in a particularly destructive feedback loop, air pollution contributes to climate change. Before that, she exacerbates the latter.
Air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide and methane causes the earth’s temperature to rise. Another type of air pollution is then aggravated by this increased heat. Smog forms when the weather is warmer and there is more ultraviolet radiation. The effect? Well, there is a marked increase in flooding. There is also an increase in pollen due to a longer season and higher production.
Polluted air: effects of air pollution
Although people have made progress over the past 40+ years in improving air quality in much of the world, climate change will make it harder to meet pollution standards in the future. These are designed to protect health, but the industry provides life to billions of people. The economic balance is difficult to do but crucial !
Smog or pollution mist and soot
These two types of air pollution are the most common. Ground-level smog or ozone occurs when emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels react with sunlight.
Soot or particulate matter is made up of tiny particles of chemicals. The tiny particles come from soil, smoke, dust or allergens, in the form of gases or solids. They are carried in the air.
The Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act states, “In many parts of the United States, pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70%.” The sources of smog and soot are similar. “Both come from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines.
The effects of pollution fog and soot
Both of these types of air pollution come from anything that burns fossil fuels like coal, gas, or natural gas. The smallest particles suspended in the air, whether in the form of gases or solids, are particularly dangerous. They can enter the lungs and the bloodstream. They can also make bronchitis worse, cause heart attacks and even speed up death..
Smog can irritate the eyes and throat and also damage the lungs. This is especially true for people who work or exercise outdoors, children and the elderly. It is even worse for people with asthma or allergies. These additional pollutants only intensify their symptoms and can trigger asthma attacks.
Hazardous air pollutants
They are either fatal or pose serious health risks, even in small amounts. Almost 200 are regulated by law. Some of the most common are mercury, lead, dioxins, and benzene.
These emissions are also most often emitted during the combustion of gas or coal, during incineration or, in the case of benzene, present in gasoline. Benzene, classified as carcinogenic, may cause short-term irritation of the eyes, skin and lungs and long-term blood disorders.
Dioxins, most commonly found in food but also present in small amounts in polluted air, can affect the liver in the short term and harm the immune, nervous and endocrine systems, as well as reproductive functions..
Lead in large amounts can damage children’s brains and kidneys, and even in small amounts it can affect children’s IQ and learning ability. As for mercury, it affects the central nervous system.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are toxic components of exhaust gases and smoke from forest fires. In large amounts, they have been linked to eye and lung irritation, blood and liver problems, and even cancer..
By trapping the Earth’s heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases cause warmer temperatures and all of the hallmarks of climate change. Examples include rising sea levels and more extreme weather conditions. But there are also heat-related deaths and the increasing transmission of infectious diseases, such as Lyme..
Carbon dioxide and methane are the biggest contributors to total greenhouse gas emissions. They come from the combustion of fossil fuels and from natural and industrial sources. This includes the large amounts that are released during oil and gas drilling. Methane is much more powerful. It is therefore also very destructive.
Another class of greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons, are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in their ability to trap heat. In October 2016, more than 140 countries reached an agreement to reduce the use of these chemicals. These are used in particular in air conditioners and refrigerators.
Pollen and mold
Mold and allergens from trees, weeds and grass are also carried in the air. They are exacerbated by climate change and can be hazardous to health. It’s air pollution although it’s less directly related to human actions.
When homes, schools or businesses suffer from water damage, mold can grow and produce allergenic air pollutants. Exposure to molds can precipitate asthma attacks or an allergic response. Some molds can even produce toxins that would be dangerous for anyone to inhale..
Pollen allergies are worsening due to climate change. Studies show that the more plants that produce carbon dioxide pollen, especially ragweed, are cultivated, the more they grow and the more pollen they produce. Climate change is also extending the pollen production season. Some studies are starting to suggest that ragweed pollen itself may become a more potent allergen.
How to help reduce air pollution ?
The less gasoline we burn, the better we do to reduce polluted air and the harmful effects of climate change. Let’s make good transportation choices. When we can, let’s walk! Let’s cycle or take public transport.
For driving, choose cars that get better miles per gallon of gasoline, or choose an electric car. We can all also consider the options of our electricity supplier. Perhaps we could request that our electricity be supplied by wind or solar power.
How to protect our health ?
When the weather report indicates high pollution levels, it can be helpful to limit the time spent outdoors. Going for a walk or jogging when the air is polluted is not a good idea. Usually, ozone levels tend to be lower in the morning.
When we exercise outdoors, stay as far away from busy roads as possible. Next, take a shower and wash our clothes to remove fine particles..
If the air quality is bad, let’s stay indoors with the windows closed. Let’s wear sunscreen. When ultraviolet radiation passes through the weakened ozone layer, it can cause skin damage and skin cancer.
Check the air quality regularly
Before going out or engaging in outdoor activities, you should therefore get in the habit of checking the air quality index. In this way, taking precautions to protect health is more obvious. The media often issue smog warnings. Let’s follow them !
As a precaution, keep your medications with you. If you have heart or breathing problems, take your medicine with you when you go outside. Follow your doctor’s instructions correctly to control your symptoms.
Avoid areas where the air is polluted
When you are physically active, you breathe deeper and faster. In this way, we are more in contact with atmospheric pollutants. Therefore, it is recommended to limit physical activity and reduce its intensity in a polluted area. What are these areas ?
These are the busy roads where there is regularly a lot of traffic. There are also industrialized areas and residential areas on winter nights. Many residents of these neighborhoods operate wood stoves and fireplaces that emit pollutants into the air.
Contribute to the reduction of outdoor air pollution
-Use public transportation methods that help reduce the amount of pollutants in the air.
-Walking or cycling (when the air quality is good).
-Limit the use of fireplaces and wood-burning stoves in the winter, as such appliances contribute a lot to smog in the cold season. Make sure to properly maintain these devices.
-Maintain good indoor air quality.
-Pay attention to the air quality inside each home. It could also be harmful to health.
Some outdoor pollutants, such as fine particles and ozone, can also enter your home. Other pollutants may already be present, including:
-Smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves.
-Mold and other contaminants associated with excessive humidity.
-Volatile organic compounds, mainly formaldehyde, from household products, such as paints and varnishes.
-Building materials, such as particle board or plywood.
-Carbon monoxide emitted by certain devices and vehicles during the combustion of propane, wood, fuel, etc..
-Radon, an odorless and colorless radioactive gas that can enter buildings.
-Asbestos from brittle or damaged materials that have been sawed, sanded, etc..
How to ensure good air quality at home ?
To reduce or eliminate the main sources of pollutants, we can adopt some good habits.
-Do not smoke at home.
-Solve water infiltration problems to prevent mold growth.
-Opt for healthy household products and materials that respect the environment.
-Limit the use of wood-burning appliances.
-Install a carbon monoxide detector and avoid using fuel-powered devices (gasoline, propane, etc.) indoors.
-Measuring radon concentration at home with a dosimeter.
Simple gestures to never forget to do !
Opening your windows regularly is inexpensive and very effective. However, it is important to know how to keep the windows closed when the quality of the outside air is poor. Keeping windows closed is necessary during periods of extreme cold.
In addition, make sure to always turn on the hood during cooking. The hood must be ventilated to the outside.
Turn on the bathroom fan whenever someone takes a shower or bath.
If the ventilation system is central (also called an air exchanger), it must be operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Finally, all appliances installed in the home must be serviced regularly. Thus, they will be more efficient. If the devices mentioned above are not part of your home devices, consider getting some. It is important to pay attention to the air you breathe !