Air pollution is one of the leading causes of some of the most detrimental environmental crises facing humanity, which include climate change, acid rain and species extinction. In addition to environmental impacts, air pollution causes issues for human health as well, causing respiratory complications and even cancer. All these impacts to society are linked to air contaminants and yet this type of pollution is rarely brought to light as a leading environmental and human health issue here in Canada. Many of us might not even know what classifies as air pollutants, or how they get into our atmosphere. This blog post will discuss what air pollution is, what causes it, its direct impacts and how to reduce pollutants caused by humans. Given that air pollution affects more than just the environment, and is linked to direct human health complications, it should be a priority area for everyone.
What is Air Pollution?
Air pollution is an accumulation of various air contaminants that can include both solids and gases. Most of these pollutant substances have detrimental effects on human health and the environment on their own, but when these contaminants are all mixed together in our atmosphere, they have an even greater impact. Outdoor air pollutants can also be influenced by natural factors, such as meteorological conditions including temperature, wind, air stability and humidity. In some cases, air pollutants can affect the air quality in locations thousands of miles away from where the pollutant was released, due to these atmospheric conditions.
What Causes Air Pollution?
Air pollutants can come from a variety of industries, processes and human activities, and all play an equally impactful role in the health of our atmosphere.
The top 4 human derived air pollutants are:
- The Burning of Fossil Fuels
This could be at any level, but most of the most toxic and high level contaminants come from industrial sized factories and of course, the transportation industry (this includes cars, trucks, ships and airplanes). Coal burning factories were (and are in some places) a leading agent behind air pollution, however, Ontario has now banned that form of fossil fuel use due to its volatile nature.
Fumes from everyday products that perhaps you would not even think twice about using and disposing of cause air pollution. These products include paint, varnish, and other compound solvents that are toxic to you and the environment. Unfortunately, this also includes products such as hairsprays, dry shampoos and any other beauty products that are contained in an aerosol format. Make sure that if your bottle is not empty of any of these solvents, that is goes to hazardous waste for proper disposal
3. Uncaptured Waste Incineration Outputs
Burning garbage or waste in an uncaptured environment (meaning that the gasses released from burning are put right into the atmosphere) is detrimental to air quality. This is often why there is such a negative association with burning plastics and garbage, as the gases released from the process affect air pollution. However, as we have discussed in previous blogs, waste incineration, when done correctly, is actually a much more sustainable way of disposing of garbage and waste. The key to making this process environmentally friendly is the ability to capture the off-gasses (methane) from burning (as they hold the ability to create energy instead of harming the environment and human health).
4. Fertilized Agriculture/Farmland
With industrial sized agricultural practices taking over small farm productions, high levels of fertilizer are entering the atmosphere at high rates. The way we grow, produce and distribute crops has been altered in the last 50 years to meet the growing demands of the human population. Insecticides, fertilizers and other crop sustaining sprays are applied directly to crops, not captured and therefore released into the atmosphere at alarming rates.
The Impacts of Air Pollution:
Air pollutants have been linked to a plethora of human health complications, including but not limited to allergies, respiratory infections, stroke, heart disease and even lung cancer. The risk factors associated with air pollution are far reaching, but generally directly affect the lungs and heart. However, in areas that face smog issues, these health risks can increase to eye, throat and nose irritations. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for nearly 7 millions deaths annually across the globe. In Canada alone, air pollution has been linked to approximately 14,000 premature deaths annually. That is a lot of unnecessary suffering that could otherwise be avoided if we were able to reduce pollutant outputs.
In addition to its impact on human fatalities, air pollution is also responsible for major environmental effects, such as climate change and acid rain episodes. Due to these factors of climate change and ozone depletion, there are issues involving animal extinction (especially pollinators) as animals and insects cannot quickly adapt to the changing climatic conditions.
What Can You Do To Reduce Air Pollution?
Although many of the major contributors to air pollution are from industrial practices, there is no reason that we as individuals should not try to lessen our impact. Here are 5 things that you could do to reduce the amount of air pollutants you contribute to:
- Instead of driving, try alternative methods of transportation such as public buses, walking or bike riding. Another option would be to try carpooling.
- If you are in the market for a new vehicle, look for low emissions vehicles or electric versions.
- Make your home more efficient to reduce overuse of energy. Keep oil/gas burning stoves/heaters in good condition, and replace with high efficiency versions as you need to.
- Buy with the environment in mind. Try to avoid harmful chemicals where you can, and swap aerosol products for non-gaseous counterparts.
- Plant more trees to help clean the air around you and your community
From inter-city pollution from industrial processes, to smoke inside of your home, it is clear that air pollution poses a major threat to human health and the environment. There are ways to avoid air pollution, especially through air filter systems inside your home that collect harmful compounds. Additionally, where you find your local weather, they will give you an air quality rating for your area (usually using a rating system). This can help you decide whether you want to go outside or not that day, depending on your health and allergies.
However, the best way is to not have to avoid it at all, and to hopefully reduce the amount of air pollution in the first place. This is something that we as a society need to put more thought and consideration towards, as this directly affects our well-being in a multitude of ways and is directly impacted by our processes. Air pollution can be avoided if we reduce our impacts as a society.