Particulate Pollution: Chesapeake Bay in New Jersey

Particulate Pollution: Chesapeake Bay in New Jersey

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Particulates are tiny pieces of solid or liquid matter that exist within our atmosphere. Particulates are suspended within our atmosphere as atmospheric aerosol. Particulates can be man made or natural.

Sources of Particulates
Natural Man Made
Volcano Eruptions Burning Fossil Fuels
Dust Storms Coal Combustion
Forrest/Grassland Fires Vehicles
Sea Spray Industrial Processes
Living Vegetation

Particle pollution is made up of a various number of components including acids, such as nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals or soils and dust particles.

Human Causes/History

• The main human activity, which produces particulate pollution, is due to combustion sources. Combustion sources include the burning of fossil fuels within internal combustion engines such as that of automobile engines and power plants.

• Wind blown dusts from construction sites or areas where water or vegetation has been extracted is continuing to add to the particulates within our atmosphere.

• Some particles, such as dust from roads and elemental carbon from wood combustion, are emitted directly into the atmosphere.

• Sulfur dioxide emissions are released from power plants and industrial facilities, which react with the environment to form sulfates.

• Nitrogen oxides emissions are released by power plants, automobiles, and other combustion sources which react with the environment to form nitrates.

Humans have been influencing the number particulates within our atmosphere significantly for the past three centuries since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1760. As the earth’s population continues to grow so does the demand for industry, infrastructure and limited resources. This is resulting in the clearing of land for the expansion of roads and cities, more burning of fossil fuels to supply the homes and business’s with electricity and companies are having to dig deeper to extract limited minerals and resources from the soil. It is these collective human actions, which are continuing the particulate pollution within our atmosphere.

Issue

Health

The size of the particle is directly linked to their potential in causing health issues, the smaller the more dangerous. Particles smaller than ten micrometers pose the largest threat as they have the ability to enter the lungs and even the bloodstream of humans and animals.

Particle pollution, in particular fine particles, causes many health problems, as microscopic solid and liquid particles are able to get deep into your lungs. Numerous scientific studies have shown links between particle pollution exposure and the following health issues;

• Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
• Nonfatal heart attacks
• Irregular heartbeat
• Aggravated asthma
• Decreased lung function
• Increased respiratory symptoms

Environmental Effects

• When particulates react with the atmosphere they create a photochemical smog, which reduces visibility, and causes further health conditions.

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Photochemical smog is linked to the decrease in lung capacity within humans and animals and responsible for the damage of leaf tissues of particular plants.

• Wind can carry particulates many kilometers, which can than settle causing issues to surrounding natural and agricultural ecosystems. The effects of settling particles involve; increasing the acidity of streams and lakes, changing the nutrients balance in coastal waters or large river basins, depleting the nutrients in soil, damaging vegetation, forests and crops and also reducing biodiversity within natural ecosystems. These effects all contribute to reducing the stability of the surrounding ecosystems of areas of high particulate pollution.

Aesthetic Damage

• Particle pollution exposure is responsible for staining masonry and other aesthetic materials

Case Study

Chesapeake Bay, New Jersey

Sulfates and nitrates are a significant component of particulate pollution on the east coast of the United States of America. The high proportion of sulfates and nitrates within our atmosphere, due to industry and automobile outputs of urban ecosystems, has been directly linked to ecosystem damage. In this case study we will discuss the effects of particulate pollution on Chesapeake Bay in New Jersey.

As nitrates are released into the atmosphere as fine particles they get caught in the wind and eventually settle on surrounding ecosystems and are causing central concerns for the health of Coastal ecosystems. As the nitrogen species settle in watersheds, streams and estuaries these bodies of water become over enriched with nutrients causing eutrophication. Eutrophication occurs because nitrogen is a limiting nutrient for the growth of algae. Chesapeake Bay is the United States largest estuarine system covering one sixth of the Eastern Seaboard and is being affected greatly by the excess nitrogen deposition due to particulate pollution. Excess nitrogen entering the Bay produces algal blooms that block sunlight needed for submerged aquatic grasses, and the decomposition of excess algae depletes the amount of dissolved oxygen within the water needed by organisms that inhabit bottom water to sustain life. It is said to be that between 10%-45% of total atmospheric nitrogen ends up in estuaries along the coast.

Sulfates are also a large proportion of particulate pollution, which significantly affect Chesapeake Bay. As the sulfate particles settle in the bay it greatly affects the ecosystem by reducing productivity and disrupting the nutrient cycle. The reduction of productivity and disruption to the nutrient cycle leads to the massive summer fish kills of Chesapeake Bay for the last two decades.

In the last twenty years particulate pollution has been significantly affecting Chesapeake by the introduction of nitrates and sulfates. The Bay is an important fish and shell fish industry and serves as a nursery for marine commercial and sport fish. This disruption due to the change in nitrate and sulfates level is having a significant impact on aquatic life, the ecosystem and the industries it supports. This impact on the natural ecosystem is resulting in its loss of biodiversity causing it to decrease in stability.

Solutions

To reduce the proportion of human produced particulate matter in the atmosphere we simply need to reduce the activities that lead to the pollution of our atmosphere or look into new solutions to more renewable sources of fuel and energy.

• Opting for alternatives to wood and fossil fuel burning for home heating,
• Reducing driving by using public transport or bicycles and choosing cleaner cars and fuels,
• Refraining from lighting outdoor fires,
• Regenerate bush land and forest to prevent erosion of soil and minerals
• Renewable energy sources for electricity, such as solar panels or hydroelectricity, rather than the combustion of fossil fuels,
• Limit the use of household and personal products that cause fumes,
• Reduce power consumption around the home to relieve demand on power plants,
• Don’t burn yard waste,
• Do not use fire pits on Pollution Action Days

These are all steps we can take to reduce fine particle pollution.

Pollution Action Days

Particulate mater can cause many health and environmental issues which is why the city of Chicago, in the United States, have bought in an action day which aims to reduce the levels of particulate matter and improve the air quality over the city. When several days pass with air pollution levels deemed unhealthy, in the amber or red zone of the index, the city takes precautions to reduce this particulate pollution. The city calls for a Pollution Action Day.

On days of high pollution levels the citizens are asked to reduce their pollution activities in an effort to reduce particulate matter and improve air quality. Citizens are not to use gas powered engines, encouraged to use carpooling and public transport and reduce their electricity consumption. As well as reducing pollutants it is important for the community to check on those who are of high risk due to health issues and encourage them to take it easier.
All though this is not a long-term solution it is a short-term fix. Following Pollution Action Days pollutants in the air drop significantly returning the air quality index back into safe levels of moderate or good. Pollution Action Days are affective in reducing pollutant levels but are only a quick fix. To further decrease the particulate pollution of our atmosphere long-term plans need to be put in place reducing human activities leading to air pollution.

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