The debate over air pollution


Air pollution comes from many forms such as factories. The pollutant affects human health and the environment’s well being. Photo by Envato Elements.

Karina Liu

Smoke rises from those tall, cylindrical beasts, filling the air with swirls of mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide. These metals taint the air as they corrupt the pureness that breathes life into the world. Large, chunky monsters glide down the road, loudly roaring or softly purring as they present exhaust from the pipe to the earth.
Pollution, no matter in the air, water, or on land poses a huge problem for the world and for all walks of life. Typical causes of air pollution include industrial and manufacturing emissions, burning of fossil fuels, and home and farming chemicals, which affects the health of people, the climate, and water. WHO’s interactive map shows air pollution levels throughout the world with the most affected areas in Africa and Asia.
“…an estimated 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds safety limits, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), causing millions of deaths a year and costing the global economy billions of dollars in lost labor income,” World Economic Forum stated.
In terms of the effect on nature, air pollutants like sulfuric acid mix with moisture in the clouds to create acid rain, which harms trees and animals. This also applies to the soil. As the chemistry of soil changes, creatures that depend on the soil to live may no longer survive.
“Acid rain…changes the chemistry of the lakes and streams that the rainwater flows into, harming fish and other aquatic life,” eSchoolToday stated.
The rain also carries nitrogen present in pollutants to various rivers and soils, which affects the nutrients and promotes algae growth in water. The growth of algae sucks up oxygen and blocks sunlight creating a harmful environment for aquatic life.
Furthermore, air pollution creates a poisonous gas called ozone (O3), a gas that affects one’s health and damages some plant and animal life. It possesses the capabilities to damage organs.
“Short-term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Others include headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions…can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema,” eSchoolToday noted. “Long-term health effects can include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys.”
Despite these, many solutions provided by eSchoolToday help contribute to less air pollution. To minimize the burning of fossil fuels, governments introduced renewable energy such as wind and solar as alternatives while car manufacturing companies build more energy-efficient cars. Individually, use public transportation to minimize the number of cars on the road and use energy such as light and water more wisely. Recycling prevents manufacturing companies from polluting the air too.
Even so, many believe air pollution poses no problem. NPR interviewed Natalie Mahowald, a climate researcher at Cornell University, to state, pollutants like aerosols even produce positive effects on the environment. Aerosols come from smokestacks and include soot and other compounds. NPR said they reflect sunlight into space, stimulate clouds to keep humans cool, and influence the amount of carbon dioxide taken by plants on land and sea.
Mahowald told NPR aerosols add nutrients to the ocean and land. She also said aerosols reduce global warming by cooling the atmosphere and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
Although aerosols pose a danger to human health, specifically heart and lung disease, Mahowald cites results to show how the reduction of aerosols pose a problem. Aerosols encourage plant growth which in turn removes carbon dioxide. Even so, Mahowald said the poorly studied subject makes the effects hard to understand.
Despite the positivity of aerosols, they still create problems for the human population.
“WHO reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure,” the World Health Organization said. “This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.”
The World Economic Forum names PM2.5 as a tiny particle that penetrates the human lungs and cardiovascular system to cause respiratory infections and “noncommunicable” diseases such as stroke, lung cancer, and more.
“WHO guidelines state annual average concentrations of PM2.5 should be below 10 micrograms per cubic meter, but the vast majority of the world’s population is living in areas exceeding this limit,” the World Economic Forum said (the WHO article dives deeper into the issue).
Despite these dangers, the World Economic Forum cites creative ways to use pollution while also getting rid of it.
One Dutch artist named Dan Roosegarde created seven-meter towers to clean up polluted air in China for the Smog Free Project. The article said the towers “suck up polluted air and clean it at the nano-level,” eventually releasing the clean air back to the parks and playgrounds. Then, the leftover carbon undergoes intense pressure to become diamonds.
Other innovations World Economic Forum mentions include the company AirInk, which turns pollution into art supplies through a device attached to car tailpipes; a Chinese performance artist called ‘Nut Brother’ who walked around Beijing with a vacuum cleaner to at last create a brick mixed from pollution and dust; and scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory figured out a way to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel or ethanol.
In addition, Mark Herrema, CEO of Newlight Technologies, created AirCarbon, a material as strong as plastic, biodegradable, and able to be “melted and formed into shapes.” Created from air and carbon emissions, this material surpasses the use of plastic, a material near everlasting.
Through all these innovations, they show the control of air pollution through a united effort. Even though specific types of air pollution like aerosols may benefit the ecosystem, serious health effects produced through pollutants still need to be addressed.
To limit the effects of air pollution through each individual, the EPA recommends to conserve energy at home, work, or anywhere; to carpool or use public transportation when possible; to use environmentally safe paints or cleaning products; and more. Any attempts to reduce these harmful pollutants benefit the environment and human beings.
What do you think about air pollution? Comment down below.