Causes and consequences of air pollution

We know that the main air pollutants are carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, methane, nitrogen monoxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons and the like. But where do they come from, what produces them and what consequences do they bring to the environment and health? Let us know in detail what are the causes and consequences of air pollution.

Causes of air pollution

Fossil fuel consumption and emission of smog

Most of the automotive fleet in the world, as well as other machinery, is powered by fossil fuel. This type of fuel is one of the main sources of atmospheric pollution, as it generates a high concentration of gases, especially carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide, together with airborne dust, soot and other elements, produces a low, dense cloud that hangs over regions with urban and industrial activity. This kind of cloud alters the air we breathe and also causes the heat of human activity to condense and the ambient temperature to rise.

See also:

  • Smog.
  • Fossil fuel.

Agricultural and agricultural practices

The agricultural and agricultural sectors have an impact on air pollution. In the case of the agricultural sector, the exorbitant increase in the number of cattle and, with them, the increase in body emissions of methane gas and carbon dioxide, are part of the causes of air pollution.

This, together with agricultural practices such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides, represent significant damage due to their scale. A balance collected by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) on its official website includes the following data:

Industrial activity

Industrial processes significantly pollute the air we breathe, as they are a source of chemical and mineral emissions in the atmosphere. In this way, industrial activity joins the sources that produce the smog.

Waste management

Solid waste management is also a source of air pollution. In addition to causing bad odors, solid waste generates gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, adding more pollution to the atmosphere.

The problem is aggravated when indiscriminate incineration techniques are applied, which involve large emissions of smoke, toxic gases and particles that compromise the respiration of all living beings.

See also The rule of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Use of chemicals such as aerosols, refrigeration gases, enamels and other solvents

Daily activity, whether at home or at work, also has an impact on air pollution. The use of aerosols, gases for refrigeration, enamels and other solvents are some of the most polluting products.

Gases and particles emanating from volcanic eruptions

Volcanic eruptions are always accompanied by the emission of toxic gases, as well as the expulsion of charred material and dust that accumulates in the atmosphere, which forces the evacuation of the surrounding areas.

See also Volcano.

Dust particles

The accumulation of dust particles in the air adds to the causes of air pollution. Air laden with dust particles is unbreathable air.

Forest fires

Wildfires are a source of carbon dioxide. The smoke they produce, as well as the particles that result from combustion, prevent respiration.

See also Types of natural disasters.

Emissions of volatile organic compounds

Emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) affect the air we breathe. They contain, for example, carbon tetrachloride, which affects the ozone layer.

In addition, VOCs produce so-called photochemical smog, which is nothing more than a reddish-brown fog. Its main damage occurs in respiratory health.

As an example of VOC we can mention paints and varnishes, which are used both at home and in different industries such as steel, wood, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Consequences of air pollution

Greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect consists of the increase in environmental temperature that occurs as a consequence of the disproportionate increase in toxic gases, especially carbon dioxide.

See also Greenhouse effect.

Acid rain

Acid rain is that produced by the accumulation of substances in the air such as sulfuric and nitric acid, which come especially from emissions produced by fossil fuel engines. In this way, acid rain increases soil pollution and water pollution.

See also Acid rain.

Variations in meteorological behavior

Recent research suggests that black carbon affects the quality of clouds, as well as their behavior, which has an impact on weather cycles. Consequently, changes in rainfall patterns are recorded in different regions of the world.

Damage to the ozone layer

The ozone layer is responsible for protecting the earth from ultraviolet (UV) rays. With progressive industrialization, this has been diminished by the action of atmospheric pollution, since ozone is destroyed by chlorine and bromine molecules that come from chlorofluorocarbon (CFC).

One of the most alarming consequences of this problem is the spread of skin diseases, including skin cancer.

See also Ozone.

Damage to materials

Gases and particles in the air can also cause damage to certain materials that are affected by interaction with these substances.

Reduced visibility

Air pollution generates a reduction in visibility due to the accumulation of smog and suspended particles, also called particulate matter.

The particles that result from these processes, for example, coal particles, absorb solar radiation and modify it, which generates the characteristic dense layer that covers the sky of cities and increases the temperature.

Food contamination

The wind carries particles and gases in the air, so that food is exposed to its effects. This increases the possibility of suffering allergenic problems and food intolerances due to the accumulation of polluting factors within the body.

Consequences for health

Breathing polluted air has serious health consequences. Among them we can count serious respiratory diseases (asthma, allergies, pneumonia, lung cancer), poisoning due to consumption of water or food contaminated by the air, dizziness, headaches for no apparent reason, cardiovascular diseases, etc.

Also, the weakening of the ozone layer prevents UV rays from filtering in the correct way, increasing the risks of skin cancer and other skin problems.

The most vulnerable groups are children, the elderly, the sick who already have a previous or genetic condition and, of course, the impoverished sectors that do not have access to adequate medical care.

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