Air pollution refers to any physical, chemical or biological change in the air. It is the contamination of air by harmful gases, dust and smoke which affects plants, animals and humans drastically.
There is a certain percentage of gases present in the atmosphere. An increase or decrease in the composition of these gases is harmful to survival. This imbalance in the gaseous composition has resulted in an increase in the earth’s temperature, which is known as global warming.
In this blog, Pritish Kumar, discusses air pollution, its types, causes and how we can control it.
Types of Air Pollutants
There are two types of air pollutants:
The pollutants that directly cause air pollution are known as primary pollutants. Sulphur dioxide emitted from factories is a primary pollutant.
The pollutants formed by the intermingling and reaction of primary pollutants are known as secondary pollutants. Smog, formed by the intermingling of smoke and fog, is a secondary pollutant.
Causes of Air Pollution
Following are the important causes of air pollution:
Burning of Fossil Fuels
The combustion of fossil fuels emits a large amount of sulphur dioxide. Carbon monoxide released by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels also results in air pollution.
The gases emitted from vehicles such as jeeps, trucks, cars, buses, etc. pollute the environment. These are the major sources of greenhouse gases and also result in diseases among individuals.
Ammonia is one of the most hazardous gases emitted during agricultural activities. The insecticides, pesticides and fertilisers emit harmful chemicals in the atmosphere and contaminate it.
Factories and Industries
Factories and industries are the main source of carbon monoxide, organic compounds, hydrocarbons and chemicals. These are released into the air, degrading its quality.
In the mining process, the minerals below the earth are extracted using large pieces of equipment. The dust and chemicals released during the process not only pollute the air, but also deteriorate the health of the workers and people living in the nearby areas.
The household cleaning products and paints contain toxic chemicals that are released in the air. The smell from the newly painted walls is the smell of the chemicals present in the paints. It not only pollutes the air but also affects breathing.
Effects of Air Pollution
The hazardous effects of air pollution on the environment include:
Air pollution has resulted in several respiratory disorders and heart diseases among humans. The cases of lung cancer have increased in the last few decades. Children living near polluted areas are more prone to pneumonia and asthma. Many people die every year due to the direct or indirect effects of air pollution.
Due to the emission of greenhouse gases, there is an imbalance in the gaseous composition of the air. This has led to an increase in the temperature of the earth. This increase in earth’s temperature is known as global warming. This has resulted in the melting of glaciers and an increase in sea levels. Many areas are submerged underwater.
The burning of fossil fuels releases harmful gases such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides in the air. The water droplets combine with these pollutants, become acidic and fall as acid rain which damages human, animal and plant life.
Ozone Layer Depletion
The release of chlorofluorocarbons, halons, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere is the major cause of depletion of the ozone layer. The depleting ozone layer does not prevent the harmful ultraviolet rays coming from the sun and causes skin diseases and eye problems among individuals.
Effect on Animals
The air pollutants suspend in the water bodies and affect aquatic life. Pollution also compels the animals to leave their habitat and shift to a new place. This renders them stray and has also led to the extinction of a large number of animal species.
Air Pollution Control
Following are the measures one should adopt, to control air pollution:
Avoid Using Vehicles
People should avoid using vehicles for shorter distances. Rather, they should prefer public modes of transport to travel from one place to another. This not only prevents pollution, but also conserves energy.
A large number of fossil fuels are burnt to generate electricity. Therefore, do not forget to switch off the electrical appliances when not in use. Thus, you can save the environment at the individual level. Use of energy-efficient devices such as CFLs also controls pollution to a greater level.
Use of Clean Energy Resources
The use of solar, wind and geothermal energies reduce air pollution at a larger level. Various countries, including India, have implemented the use of these resources as a step towards a cleaner environment.
Other air pollution control measures include:
By minimizing and reducing the use of fire and fire products.
- Since industrial emissions are one of the major causes of air pollution, the pollutants can be controlled or treated at the source itself to reduce its effects. For example, if the reactions of a certain raw material yield a pollutant, then the raw materials can be substituted with other less polluting materials.
- Fuel substitution is another way of controlling air pollution. In many parts of India, petrol and diesel are being replaced by CNG – Compressed Natural Gas fueled vehicles. These are mostly adopted by vehicles that aren’t fully operating with ideal emission engines.
- Although there are many practices in India, which focus on repairing the quality of air, most of them are either forgotten or not being enforced properly. There are still a lot of vehicles on roads which haven’t been tested for vehicle emissions.
- Another way of controlling air pollution caused by industries is to modify and maintain existing pieces of equipment so that the emission of pollutants is minimised.
- Sometimes controlling pollutants at the source is not possible. In that case, we can have process control equipment to control the pollution.
- A very effective way of controlling air pollution is by diluting the air pollutants.
- The last and the best way of reducing the ill effects of air pollution is tree plantation. Plants and trees reduce a large number of pollutants in the air. Ideally, planting trees in areas of high pollution levels will be extremely effective.