Air Pollution

Among the many dangers of abusing and neglecting the environment is air pollution. It’s also one that can often be observed by the naked eye, in the form of smog. Air pollution is also the cause of acid rain.

Without the invisible support of our air here on Earth, humans obviously could not exist. Polluting our air is not only detrimental to the stability of our climate system, it also carries with it very serious health risks. So, what exactly is air pollution? What causes it?

Basically, whenever harmful chemicals, biological materials, or particulate matter are introduced into the atmosphere, it creates pollution. Some of these agents are naturally occurring, but may occur in unusual regions or simply in excess to due human activity. Others are complete byproducts of human activity altogether.

Pollutants are classified as either primary or secondary. Primary pollutants are those which are emitted directly from a process such as the ash from a volcanic eruption, or the carbon monoxide gas produced by a motor vehicle. Secondary pollutants, on the other hand, are emitted indirectly. Secondary pollutants are created when certain primary pollutants in the air interact with each other. Some pollutants are actually both, meaning that they alone are primary pollutants, but can also react with other agents to create different pollutants.

Among some of the most common air pollutants that occur as a direct result of human activity are the following:
- Nitrogen Oxides: Most commonly nitrogen dioxide, which often appears as a brown haze over major metropolitan areas.
- Sulfur Oxides: Mainly sulfur dioxide, a major pollutant caused by the burning of coal and oil.
- Carbon Dioxide: Though vegetation depends on it as part of the photosynthesis process, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas believed to play a significant role in the process of global warming.
- Carbon Monoxide: A colorless, odorless, and notoriously poisonous gas. It occurs as a result of incomplete fuel combustion, regularly emitted in excess by motor vehicles.
- Particulate Matter: Extremely small concentrations of smoke and dust. Particulate matter is so small that when inhaled it can enter the nasal cavity, and in some cases enter the lungs.

The air we breathe outside is not the only threat to our health. There are also different types of air pollution indoors that should be taken into account. For instance, second hand smoke from cigarettes may play a relatively small role in the global air pollution problem, but indoors its consequences can be quite severe. Even if no one smokes in your home, if you live in an apartment building it is still possible that undetectable amounts of smoke are making their way through the ventilation system. Also, smoke created from cooking or even fireplaces without adequate ventilation can cause respiratory problems with prolonged exposure. It is estimated that the majority of Americans spend between 80-90% of their lives inside of buildings, so improving your air quality at home and at the office may have a significant long term effect on your health.