It's well-known that air pollution is a big problem in today's society — but what exactly is air pollution, and why should we care?
This comprehensive overview will summarize everything you need to know about air pollution, including the causes, effects, and ways to reduce it. We'll also take a look at some global initiatives working to address the issue.
What Is Air Pollution?
Air pollution is a mixture of particles and gasses that can reach harmful concentrations outdoors and indoors, leading to negative health impacts for anyone who experiences long-term exposure. Its makeup varies depending on the location and time of year but typically includes chemicals from car exhaust, power plants, industrial facilities, and burning wood and trash.
Sources of air pollution are numerous and widespread, so it's important to monitor levels both outdoors and indoors. Health effects from air pollution range from coughing and wheezing to more serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, and chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma.
Some people are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including children, the elderly, those with pre-existing medical conditions, and outdoor workers.
In addition to its serious health effects, air pollution causes damage to the environment by harming plants and animals.
What Are the Different Sources of Air Pollution?
Air pollution is a complex and ever-present problem that affects the quality of the air we breathe and the health of our planet. That said, air pollutants are classified based on the sources responsible for producing pollution.
Although there are many sources of pollution, some of the major causes responsible for the production of air pollutants include:
- Power stations, refineries, and petrochemicals. The burning of coal and oil in power stations and furnaces is the largest source of air pollution. Petroleum refining and petrochemical production also emit large quantities of pollutants into the air as byproducts.
- The chemical and fertilizer industries. The chemical and fertilizer industries release a number of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, chlorine, and fluorine compounds.
- Metallurgical and other industrial plants. Industrial plants produce air pollution in the form of smoke, dust, and fumes.
- Municipal incineration. Municipal incinerators contribute to air pollution by emitting large quantities of particulate matter and toxic gasses such as greenhouse gas emissions, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, chlorine, and dioxins.
Although everyone must do their part in abiding by air quality standards, these major sources of pollution are the primary culprits behind high levels of air pollution. Outdoor air pollution from major pollutants affects issues like global warming, dwindling ecosystems, and volume of hospital admissions stemming from respiratory problems.
Area sources of air pollution refer to any stationary sources of air pollution that emit potentially hazardous pollutants into the air.
- Indoor area sources include domestic cleaning activities, dry cleaners, printing shops, and gas stations.
- Outdoor area sources include building sites, farming activities, and motor vehicle traffic on roads in urban areas.
Area sources of air pollution can either be point sources or non-point sources. Point sources are stationary sources that release pollutants into the air through a single opening, such as a chimney.
Non-point sources, on the other hand, are stationary sources that discharge pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and methane into the air through multiple openings, such as an aircraft engine.
Area sources of air pollution can lead to various health problems, including respiratory infections like bronchitis, cardiovascular effects, headaches, and dizziness. They can also worsen environmental health by causing problems such as acid rain and smog.
Mobile sources of air pollution include automobiles, railways, airways, and vehicles. These sources release toxic pollutants into the air, such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and hydrocarbons.
These pollutants can have a wide variety of adverse effects on your health, including respiratory problems, decreased lung function, and an increased risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and even cancer. Additionally, mobile sources of air pollution contribute to smog formation and can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Believe it or not, there are many natural sources of air pollution.
One example is wildfires. The combustion of trees and other plants emits various pollutants into the air, including carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Volcanoes are another example — they spew pollutants into the air, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide.
Dust storms also generate large amounts of particulate matter, harming human health when inhaled.
Agricultural burning is another source of air pollution. Farmers sometimes burn crops or manure to clear their fields, releasing harmful pollutants such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides into the air.
All of these natural sources of air pollution can have negative impacts on human health and the environment.
Air Pollution: An Invisible Threat
Air pollution is often thought of as an outdoor problem, but the truth is that indoor air can be just as polluted.
In fact, the EPA estimates that indoor air can be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Homes are designed to be energy-efficient, which means they may be tightly sealed. This prevents fresh air from coming in and dirty air from escaping.
- Homes are full of potential sources of pollution, from cooking fumes to natural gas to aerosol cleaning products to off-gassing furniture.
- Many people spend most of their time indoors, which means they are constantly exposed to indoor pollutants (think: bleach, mold, VOCs, and dust).
Pro Tip: That’s why Neoplants target harmful VOCs. Neoplants are bioengineered to remove compounds like benzene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde from the air so that you can breathe a little easier.
That said, there are a few different types of air pollution — one of the most common being particle pollution from particulate matter. This is a mix of solid and liquid particles that float in the air and can be inhaled deep into the lungs.
Exposure to particulate matter has been linked to many health problems including respiratory diseases, heart disease, premature deaths, and stroke. Moreover, experts believe it can exacerbate existing conditions like asthma and COPD. Even short-term exposure to heavy particle pollution can have adverse health effects.
Do Health Risks Differ Between Ambient Air Quality and Indoor Air Quality?
While both outdoor and indoor air quality are important to human health, some evidence suggests indoor air quality may be more important than outdoor ambient air quality in terms of health risks.
According to a recent study, researchers found that people living in homes with high levels of indoor air pollution had a higher risk of respiratory problems.
In another study, researchers discovered that people who work in office buildings with poor ventilation have a higher risk of feeling sick than those with good ventilation.
These studies suggest that indoor air quality may be more important than ambient air quality in terms of health risks, but of course, further research is needed to confirm these findings.
How Can You Help Improve Air Quality?
There are several practices that you can adopt to help improve air quality at broad. While some measures, such as installing an air monitoring device, can require a significant investment of funds, there are many simple steps that you can explore now to make a difference.
- Reduce your use of fossil fuels. Walking or biking instead of driving daily can dramatically reduce your emissions.
- Cut down on household energy use. Turn off lights and other electronic appliances when you're not using them, and invest in energy-efficient models when it's time to replace old ones.
- Get involved in community tree-planting initiatives. Trees play an important role in cleaning the air and soil. They also cool the environment while providing other benefits like reducing noise pollution.
- Support businesses that are working to reduce their environmental impact. Look for companies that use recycled materials, practice energy efficiency, or have installed pollution-control devices.
- Be conscious of the products you purchase. Various common household items contain chemicals that can pollute the air when used or disposed of improperly. Choose eco-friendly alternatives whenever possible.
- Educate yourself and others about air pollution and what we can do to reduce it. The more people understand the problem, the more likely they will take action against it.
- Advocate for stronger laws and regulations aimed at protecting air quality. Write to your representatives and tell them that this is an issue you care about!
- Last but certainly not least — purify your home with Neoplants. Regular house plants have some interesting properties when it comes to ambient air quality, but Neoplants are a new era of plants. Why? Because Neoplants are bioengineered to remove toxins from the air so that you can breathe a little easier. Thanks to metabolism engineering and directed evolution of the Golden Pothos, Neo P1 works to recycle toxic VOCs into water, sugar, amino acids, and oxygen. Neo P1 is up to 30 times more powerful than most air-purifying houseplants. It’s good for the world, and gorgeous for your home.
The Bottom Line
Air pollution is a pressing global concern that requires immediate attention. While the steps we take to mitigate air pollution may seem small, they can make a real difference when combined.
Introducing: Neoplants, the world’s first bioengineered plants to help fight indoor air pollution.
And we won’t just stop at tackling indoor air pollutants: addressing outdoor air pollution is next!
Join us on our mission to fight air pollution and breathe fresh, clean air. And don't forget to follow us on social media so you can see all the progress we're making!
Indoor Air Quality | US EPA
Air Pollution | WHO
Health Consequences of Air Pollution on Populations | WHO
Health & Environmental Effects Of Air Pollution | Mass.Gov
What Are the Natural Sources of Air Pollution and How Do They Affect Our Health? | Airly WP
Fine Particles (PM 2.5) Questions and Answers | Department of Health
Household Air Pollution and Health | WHO
The Sick Building Syndrome | PMC