Air Pollution and its Harmful Effects

Air Pollution and its Harmful Effects

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Air Pollution and its Harmful Effects

“Air Pollution, addition of harmful substances to the atmosphere resulting in damage to the environment, human health, and quality of life.” (Encarta Air Pollution) “Damage” may be quite an understatement on this topic. I believe that mass extinction might be more than damaging to the quality of life. I seem to be “jumping the gun” here but as you will see air pollution is a very deadly environmental concern. In the United States alone, air pollution has been a serious environmental and public health problem since the early part of the 1900’s. Acid Rain, Ozone Depletion, Smog, and Global Warming are all the result of air pollution. This could possibly be the single most devastating factor in the dissipation of our Eco-system, as we know it.
Acid Rain is a term that consists of acid rain, snow, fog, and particles. It is caused by sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides released by power plants vehicles and other sources such as gasses, and oils. (EPA Acid Rain) Acid rain effects trees, soil, farms, and surface waters. When the acid in rain comes in contact with an object it immediately starts a chemical reaction. A pH scale measures the acidity level of a substance in numerical order, 0-14, 0 being pure acid, 7.5 the most neutral point, and 14 being the highest alkalinity. (Encarta Acid Rain pg. 2)
Acid rain eats away at the nutrients in the topsoil needed by plants and wildlife. The soils natural alkaline can sometimes neutralize the acid, but in places where the soil is thin the alkalinity is poor. In Vermont we have low alkalinity because our land is mostly comprised of granite. (Encarta Acid Rain pg. 2)
Trees and plants are also at risk because of the acidic soil. It slows tree growth, as well as eats holes through the vulnerable leaves. Once acid and the metals they dissolve weaken trees, they are more susceptible to other harms like insects, drought, and cold weather. (Encarta) Higher elevations are at more risk because they are closer to the “deadly” clouds. (Encarta Acid Rain pg. 2) In the worst cases trees have physical damage to the roots and leaves, reduced canopy cover, crown dieback, a reduced growth rate and finally whole tree death. (EFFECTS OF ACID RAIN ON TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEMS)
Crops are generally less at risk to acid rain than trees. Most farms are in thick topsoil conditions where alkalines can neutralize the acid.

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In Vermont this is not true, as said before we have thin soil because of our high granite content. Fertilizer and limestone are two prevention methods used by farmers. Thankfully fertilizer is a cheap resource to farmers. (Encarta) Metals such as aluminum are dissolved and dispersed into the topsoil. The crops in turn soak up the poisoned water and sometimes die depending on the severity of the poisoning. (Persephone’s Acid Rain Page)
Fallen acid rain makes it’s way into streams, lakes, and wetlands. Melting snow is also a large factor. Acid is not limited to rain by any means; it can come in any form of precipitation, even fog. Crustaceans such as clams, and crayfish are the first to be affected by the acidic water, along with micro-organisms like plankton. As the food chain goes various other types of fish are affected, wildlife such as birds and mammals that feed on the dwindling number of fish are also threatened.
Constantly changing, the ozone layer is being produced and destroyed in the same instance. Until the last few decades nature was keeping up with the depletion of the ozone layer. Nature used to successfully produce more ozone than that which was destroyed naturally. The ozone protects us from harmful UVB rays produced by the sun. All sunlight contains some UVB, even with normal ozone levels. These rays have been linked to skin cancer, cataracts, damage to materials like plastics, and harm to certain crops and marine organisms. (EPA Health Effects to Over Exposure To the Sun) CFC’s release gasses that when mixed with the sun’s rays in the stratosphere produce chlorine atoms. These Damaging gasses stay intact 10,000 feet up in the troposphere where these gases normally tend to lie and then slowly penetrate into the higher stratosphere. This high in the atmosphere ultraviolet light breaks the pollutants down to these chlorine atoms, which have a damaging effect. Chlorine atoms have a lifetime of about 20 to 100 years, but most are destroyed sooner than that. Estimations have been made that just one of these chlorine atoms can destroy up to 100,000 atoms of ozone. If we all stopped producing chemicals containing CFC’s at this very moment, the ozone layer would rot away for years to come just because of the pollution already there. (Man-Made CFC's) The devastation that these gasses can cause is immeasurable. For it is these gasses that contribute to much of the greenhouse effect.
Some greenhouse gasses are produced naturally. Largely Gasses like water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, are gasses that the earth creates without the help of man. However man has produced other much more powerful gasses called HFCs. (EPA Global Warming)
Carbon dioxide is released into the air when solid wastes, coal, oil, natural gas, and wood is burned. (EPA Global Warming) Plants and trees help rid the Earth of these pollutants by photosynthesis, a process in which they turn carbon dioxide into the clean oxygen we humans and animals need. Global deforestation on scales hard to imagine does not help this matter one bit.
Solid waste and decay of organic matter release methane and nitrous oxide naturally. However methane is also emitted into the by the production and transportation of coal natural gas and oil. Both methane and nitrous oxide are also emitted into the atmosphere by the burning and decomposition of human waste and these fossil fuels. Infrared rays heat up methane 21 more times than they do carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide 270 times the heat. (EPA Global Warming) Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled. (Encarta Global warming)
All of these factors are producing green house gasses and a damaging effect called global warming. Throughout time our Earth’s climate has changed many times. Right now we are headed for a global warming at an unprecedented rate. The effects on the earth could be disastrous for mankind. At worst our air could be absolutely toxic to breathe, not to mention how devastating the rise in water levels could be from the melting of the polar ice caps. Our world as we know it could be demolished by this fairly new recognized phenomenon. The weather to say the least would be catastrophically different. We have already seen some of the effects. Global mean surface temperatures have increased 0.5-1.0°F since the late 19th century. The 20th century's 10 warmest years all occurred in the last 15 years of the century. Of these, 1998 was the warmest year on record. Globally, sea level has risen 4-8 inches over the past century. Worldwide precipitation over land has increased by about one percent. (EPA Global Warming) So the fact that something is happening to our planet is rather indisputable.
According to Dr. Robert C. Balling, Arizona State University, by most accounts, man-made emissions have had no more than a minuscule impact on the climate. Although the climate has warmed slightly in the last 100 years, 70% percent of that warming occurred prior to 1940, before the upsurge in greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes. If this is true then are we as humans really at fault for the Earth’s climate change? (Global Warming In Brief) Even more shocking is that a Gallup survey indicated that only 17% of the members of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Society thought the warming of the 20th century was the result of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. (Global Warming In Brief) So as you can see global warming is still in some serious debate. The Global Warming In Brief Internet site particularly interested me in stating “The idea that global warming would melt the ice caps and flood coastal cities seems to be mere science fiction. A slight increase in temperature -- whether natural or mankind induced -- is not likely to lead to a massive melting of the earth ice caps, as sometimes claimed in the media. Also, sea-level rises over the centuries relate more to warmer and thus expanding oceans, not to melting ice caps.” (Global Warming In Brief)
The debates on the causes of global warming prevention have also caused much upset in politics. The questions on how much to cut emissions of cars, and factories, as well as other pollution have become somewhat of a political scam as parties continuously change their views on certain topics. However many promising treaties, proposals, and policies have been made. As of right now no one can be sure where the governments of the world are going to go with this issue. One thing is for sure though, we are aware of the possibility of global warming, what we intend to do about it lies in the future.
Along with all this another evil lies in our air, exposure to certain chemicals labeled toxic air pollutants. Title III of the CAAAs has identified 188 Hazardous Air Pollutants HAPs. The 188 HAPs consist of toxic air pollutants identified by EPA which, when their emissions are controlled through available technology, are likely to have the greatest impact on ambient air quality and human health. (New Hampshire Air Resources Division) Toxic air pollutants are those pollutants that, at sufficient concentrations and exposure, are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or to cause adverse environmental effects. (New Hampshire Air Resources Division) These are poisonous substances in the air that come from natural sources (for example, radon gas coming up from the ground) or from manmade sources (for example, chemical compounds given off by factory smokestacks) and can harm the environment or your health. Just something as simple as pumping gas can give you leukemia from the fumes put out by the benzene. (EPA Air Toxics) A fine example can be argued about right here in Vermont. I personally know people who claim that the talc mill in Brownsville, Vermont has much to do with the outbreak of lung, and full blown bone marrow cancer that seems to be affecting a large number of previous and present workers, as well as those who live around it. This may or may not be the truth of the matter much of this is speculation and hearsay. However it’s not a commonly thought of air pollutant and it makes you think of how close to home this can be. The health effects caused by this pollution are still not fully known but some that we are aware of are cancer, respiratory irritation, nervous system problems, and birth defects. The illnesses one can be affected by are divided into two categories short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) complications. One’s time exposed to the pollutant, level of toxicity of the pollutant, frequency of exposure, and overall health and general resistance to the toxin are all factors in which toxic pollutants can affect human health. The six major regulated air pollutants are ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and lead. (Department of Environmental Protection State Of Maine) However there are 188 listed hazardous air pollutants some of these are even common household items. So just because you don’t live in a smog filled area it doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible.
The more common form of toxic air pollution is smog. Smog’s prime ingredient is low level ozone. The main culprits to this matter are cars with poor emissions systems, and fossil fuel burning factories. The problem mostly lies in the cities where traffic flow is highest. The urban dwellers who are most affected by smog are all at risk to “Acute respiratory problems, aggravate asthma, decreases in lung capacity of 15 to over 20 percent in some healthy adults, inflammation of lung tissue, and impair the body's immune system defenses, making people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses, including bronchitis and pneumonia.” (EPA Office of Air & Radiation) People affected are those who have asthma, and people who are heavy. Children are even more affected by smog than adults are. Smog and ground level ozone also affect plants and trees. Most plants exchange gasses with the surrounding air absorbing some of the same toxins we do. They lack the ability to photosynthesize, produce brown spots, and wither away and die. Tobacco plants are unusually susceptible. They have actually been used to monitor low-level ozone toxicity patterns.
“Air Pollution, addition of harmful substances to the atmosphere resulting in damage to the environment, human health, and quality of life.” (Encarta Air Pollution) If you didn’t know much about air pollution before I began this paper then I bet that statement has a different meaning for you now. It certainly does for me. I believe that just being aware of what’s going on around you can make a huge impact. Each of these factors I talked about are generally worsening everyday. There is much debate about some of the real causes of different pollutants. However one thing remains to be the truth. We may not fully understand all the pollution around us, but we have come a long way in trying to understand it. We are aware of what is happening. No longer do people have to wonder about where our possible self-destruction could lead. The answers are out there. What we do to slow down or even cease the existence of manmade air pollution is up to our governments and us as a human race. I hope that by writing this paper I have as you say, helped the cause by informing more people of the hazards and dangers of air pollution.


(Encarta Air Pollution)
"Air Pollution," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
(Encarta Acid Rain) "Acid Rain," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
(EPA Acid Rain) December 11, 2000
(Encarta Global Warming) "Global Warming," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
(Persephone’s Acid Rain Page)
(EPA HEALTH EFFECTS OF OVEREXPOSURE TO THE SUN) Stratospheric Protections Division, April 11, 2000
(Man-Made CFCs) Pluth, Mike July 6, 1997
(EPA Global Warming) April 17, 2001
(Global Warming In Brief) Zipperer, Richard
(New Hampshire Air Resources Division) September 1, 2001
(EPA Air Toxics) March 16, 2001
(State of Maine Department of Environmental Protection) October 27, 2000
(EPA Office of Air and Radiation) April 18, 2001
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