The Effects On Human Health And The Environment

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Coal fired power plants produce a major portion of America’s electricity. However, they also release nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other side products of combustion. These chemicals have potentially adverse effects on human health and the environment (1). Therefore, there are standards and measurement protocols set by the Environmental Protection Agency to control the concentration of these pollutants in the air from power plants and other sources. The health effects of NO¬x gases include acute respiratory inflammation for otherwise healthy individuals. In populations with respiratory illness, elevated NOx¬ levels are associated with an increased risk of respiratory symptom-induced hospitalizations (2) Nitrogen oxides can also react with volatile organic compounds released as air pollutants to form smog. This smog not only causes decreased visibility, but can cause respiratory illness or decreased functioning in the very young, the elderly, or those who already experience respiratory problems (2). Sulfur dioxide has many of the same health effects. It also reacts with molecules in the air to form compounds that can irritate the lungs. This can aggravate asthma, emphysema, and similar diseases, leading to hospitalizations. (3) The pollutants also cause environmental damage. Both NOx and SOx react with atmospheric water to form acids (1). While the atmosphere can float to the ground even in dry weather, it is particularly hazardous in the case of snow or heavy rain. The sudden influx of acid in a rainstorm or snowmelt will leach into lakes, streams, and other water sources(1). The change in pH may last weeks, long enough to damage the wildlife that require narrow ranges of alkalinity for survival. Human constructed buildi... ... middle of paper ... ...the case of significant water vapor, a dryer can also be used (14). In conclusion, both sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen are common pollutants produced by power plants and other combustion reactions. These pollutants can cause acute health affects as well as exacerbating chronic conditions in vulnerable populations. Nitrogen oxides can be measured by converting them to nitrogen monoxide and having them undergo a chemiluminescence reaction with ozone. The amount of light produced will be proportional to the concentration of NOx. As for sulfur dioxide, fluorescence may be used. Care must be taken to account for molecules that will quench the sulfur dioxide’s signal or that will emit at similar wavelength. However, provided that these factors are accounted for, the amount of light emitted will directly correlate to the amount of sulfur dioxide in the ambient air.
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