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You’re driving through a busy city and you see plastic cups, fast food bags, and all sorts of trash along the streets and sidewalks. This is so common you might not think about the invisible pollution all around you. But this unseen threat is everywhere; in almost every city and its actions affect nearly 40% of Americans. It’s called Air Pollution. This essay will discuss how air pollution is damaging our health, our wildlife, our plant life, and everything around us.
To put it simply, air pollution is when gases, dust, particles, and smoke are introduced into the atmosphere and contaminates the air; which is harmful for animals, humans, and the planet. The main cause of this is humans burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline. Carbon dioxide is the source of most air pollution and it is warming the Earth at a high rate. Most living things release carbon dioxide when they breathe, but that’s not why it’s considered to be a pollutant. Human activities like driving cars, flying planes, and running power plants are what cause such a huge amount of CO2 to go into the atmosphere. But that isn’t the only cause of air pollution and most of these we cannot control.
There are 4 main sources of air pollution including; mobile, stationary, area, and natural. Mobile includes cars, buses, trains, planes, and trucks. Stationary are power plants, oil refineries, industrial facilities, and factories. These produce a large amount of pollution in a small area which can cause the pollutants to spread around it. Area sources include; agricultural areas, cities, and wood burning fireplaces. They make up a small portion of the total pollution but when you combine all the sources, they can become a large problem. And finally, natural sources, these include; dust blown around by the wind, wildfires, and volcanoes. They do play a role in air pollution but obviously most of these sources are out of our control. Their role can be important sometimes but they don’t usually cause outgoing pollution like all the other sources. These sources are present in almost every country but in what country is it the worst?
China, with a population of over 1 billion, has very bad pollution in their air. Although China is not in the top 10 worst polluted countries, many of its citizens live in a cloud of thick smog. This is due to China’s booming factories and industries, that primarily use coal for power. Because of the pollutants in the air, almost everyone is China wears dust masks. Those who go without them, they are putting themselves at risk for some serious health problems. Long term exposure in areas of high air pollution can cause: accelerated aging of the lungs, development of respiratory diseases such as, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and in rare cases, cancer. In fact, 4,400 people die every day in China due to air pollution. Yearly, it kills over 1.5 million people. Because of this China is starting to go green. They’re tearing down old coal factories and switching to more environmentally friendly options.
47% of Americans live in areas with incredibly high air contamination levels. Most of the cities with prominent air pollution are in California with Los Angeles-Long Beach topping the charts. Places with high air pollution problems usually have a large population which has more cars which leads to more pollution in the air. But lots of people driving their cars is not the only reason some cities have excessive pollution levels. Geography does play a part because some cities live in what’s called a bowl where their area collects pollutants. Since the Clean Air Act of 1970, the United States has lowered their air contaminants by more than 40% since 2010.
One question that many have is how do we measure air pollution? A tool called a diffusion used is in most cases. It is used to indicate levels of Nitrogen dioxide, Ozone, Ammonia, and others inorganic materials. It works through a process called Molecular diffusion. During this, compounds move from high to low concentration. They then diffuse into the tube and are absorbed at the end of the tube. Since they have been absorbed, the concentration that is low remains and diffusion continues. The rate at which the compounds enter the tube is known as uptake rate. The faster the rate, the more pollutants are in the air. It’s the most common tool used and it helps us to know where pollution levels are pretty high.
Another piece of equipment is called an Air Quality Meter. It is used in tight spaces to prevent mold build up, to monitor the CO2 levels, and to identify gas leaks. These devices are used for indoor use but they are very important and are key to maintaining health and safety in your home. It can detect carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, ozone, and many other dangerous gases. The Air Quality Meter can be handheld or wall attached and you don’t need a science degree to know how it works.
But why should we care about pollution in the air? People who live in air of high pollution (47% of Americans) are at greater risk of many health problems. If someone is exposed to only short term air pollution they may experience irritation of the eyes, throat, and nose. This will most likely come with an assortments of reactions from the body including, but not limited to; wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and a tightening of the chest. These side effects usually go away after a while. Long term exposure has a whole list of problems. People who have lived in areas with air pollution issues have even more health complications. They are at an increased risk for a heart attack, can develop cancer, have respiratory, reproductive, immune, and neurological problems. In fact, in Southern California, roughly 1,314 people die every year from breathing in polluted air. Residents of Los Angeles, over 3000 people, have some sort of respiratory disease including persistent bronchitis. Because of this, cities in Southern California have tried to battle the pollution and the smog. They are lessening the amount of harmful emissions in the air and having clean fuel standards. However, despite their best efforts, Los Angeles is still covered in a thick layer of smog and many people are still becoming sick or dying because of the air. Air pollution will never go away overnight, but the state of California is trying to lowered the levels as much as they can.
The people who are most susceptible to developing respiratory diseases are children and elderly people. Children, on average, spend more time outdoors than most adult so they are more exposed to the pollutants in the air more. Their lungs are still developing and toxins entering them for a long period of time can cause damage and slow their growth. Children often experience many respiratory illnesses and infections so being exposed to that kind of air can worsen their symptoms. The best way to alleviate this problem is to not live by a highly trafficked area and to go outside of the big cities when allowing them to play outside.
Elderly people are also affected by air pollution. Because of their old age, their immune system isn’t what it used to be. That’s why a simple cold to a young person goes away after a little bit but for an older person, the symptoms are more severe. They may also have some undiagnosed health conditions which may be worsened from the air pollution. The air pollution can lead to stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and asthma. This causes more trips to the hospital, more medication to deal with the side effects of the toxin air, more health care providers visiting them, and can even result in premature death. Older people have also been alive longer than most so their lungs may have buildup from breathing in bad air for extensive periods throughout their lives. Because of this, the elderly do not have the lung capacity that younger people have. In countries with high pollution levels, the number of elderly citizens visiting is huge.
But we know that air pollution doesn’t only affect people. It harms the entire planet including plants, animals, and humans. And if they are damaged then, the whole system falls apart; especially plants. Forests are being cut down in order to make room for factories. Which takes away the homes of thousands of animals and kills tons of plant life. The plants and animals play a huge role in our daily lives and without them, everything would be drastically different. But air pollution harms the thing that is home to everything and everyone, Earth.
Factories and industrial plants often let out lots of air pollutants. This can cause acid rain, which is when contaminants mix with the moisture in the air. When acid rain falls, it can damage the plant life which many animals rely on for food. Also many insects use these plants as their home so they are forced to relocate. Fish and other marine life are also devastated by the rain. It causes the water to become acidic which many fish cannot survive in. And in a food chain, if one species’ population goes down, the whole thing collapses.
Air pollution doesn’t just affect the wildlife though. It can hurt household pets like dogs and cats. A study showed that animals that live in houses that are in high pollution level cities are more likely to die younger. They also have a higher risk of having a heart attack and developing cancer. Scientists in one study examined the brains of dogs that had been exposed to Mexico City’s heavy air pollution and compared them with the brains of dogs from less-polluted cities. The published report stated, ‘[t]he Mexico City dogs’ brains showed increased inflammation and pathology including amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, clumps of proteins that serve as a primary marker for Alzheimer’s disease in humans’. The best way to protect our furry friends is to avoid living in highly trafficked areas. Also when exercising with your pet, take them away from the city streets and to a more secluded area like a trail.
Air pollution causes an even bigger problem through a silent killer known as Global Warming. It happens when CO2 and other air pollution collect in the atmosphere and absorbs sunlight and radiation that have bounced off the Earth’s surface. Earth is currently warming at an alarming rate because of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Global warming due to air pollution is causing, according to one study, near the poles, ice and frozen ground are melting. This causes changes in the habitat and resources for plants and animals living there, ocean warming, rising sea levels, and runoff are causing change in shallow marine environments such as coral reefs. Global warming is causing less rain to fall in the middle of continents. This makes these areas very dry and limits water resources for plants and animals.
The pollutants in the air have caused the ozone layer to thin. The ozone layer protects the planet’s surface from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays. When holes develop, it allows the ultraviolet rays to come in which can cause cancer and harm plants and wildlife. Ozone molecules also like to gather towards the Earth’s surface which can damage the lung tissue of animals and stop plant respiration from happening. Air pollutants do this by blocking the openings in plants that allows them to breathe. This leads to less crop yield and kills plants which animals and humans use for food.
Air pollution has been reduced by quite a bit over the last few decades. Many efforts have been made to lower the amount of damage we are causing to Earth. Ever since the Clean Air Act of 1970, the US has made progress when it comes to air pollution. The CAA established requirements for States to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. It also authorized control for motor vehicle emissions. Although the US still has a long way to go to reduce air pollution by any significant amount, we are making progress. In fact the US is ranked as the 8th country with the lowest air pollution after Finland and Canada.
Air pollution is not just the government’s job to control though. You can take action and try to reduce your carbon footprint. You can conserve energy by unplugging appliances when you’re not using them. Also, you can carpool instead of driving on your own. When you and a few friends ride together, that’s 4 or more cars that aren’t letting out pollutants in the air. It may not seem like much, but it can do drastic things in the long run. There are many other ways to reduce your carbon footprint; including but not limited to, compost leaves and yard waste, paint using brushes instead of spray cans, and avoid spilling gasoline and secure your cap tightly.
Individual action is one of the best way to help with air pollution because it doesn’t require societal change. If you’ve got a green thumb, you can plant trees around your house and throughout your neighborhood. Trees have the ability to clean the air from nitrogen, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone. They also cool down the air which reduces our need for air conditioners and fans. You can also have houseplants that clean the air like a Peace Lily and a Boston Fern.
As seen from the essay, Air Pollution is causing massive damage to the planets, plants, animals, and even humans. Luckily, many federal programs including, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have worked very hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower conventional air pollution. There are quite a few voluntary programs you can join to help the Earth. Taking a few hours out of your day can make a giant difference to the overall health of the planet and the people around you.
Pollutants in the air cause health problems, harms the environment, causes weather phenomenas, and is hurting us in ways we aren’t fully aware of. Air pollution happens when we release emissions into the atmosphere and it combines with the gases already present in the air. Driving cars, flying planes, and wasting energy on running appliances all play a role in the contamination of the Earth. We are the only ones who can lower the pollutants in the air because we are the main problem.
Air pollution is harming us and everything around us. One study predicted that by 2050, there will be 3.5 million premature deaths caused by the toxic air. If we do nothing, then the air will be the biggest global killer. Plants will die out, animals will lose their homes, and people will lose their lives. But the effects of air pollution can be reversed and all we need to do is simple things like planting a tree, calling our local Congress people, and by taking action to fix the planet. It’s the only one we have and it’s our job to fix it.
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