Discover:  Causes | Effects | What is being done? | What can you do?

Causes of Air Pollution:

     Air pollution occurs when wastes dirty the air. People produce most of the wastes that cause air pollution. Most air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and other natural gases. When we burn fossil fuels we are putting harmful chemicals such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other small particulates into the environment. Due to the rise in the number of cars on the road, the amount of exhaust created by them has increased so rapidly that we almost didn't notice the amount of waste being created by them. When fuels are not completely burned, other chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) enter the air. Volcanoes emit large amounts of sulfur oxides and particulates into the atmosphere. Microbes in the guts of cattle and in rice paddies break down plant materials and release an odorless gas called methane, a type of hydrocarbon. Although humans play a very large part in putting pollutants in the air, the environment also adds to the problem natural pollutants (impurities) include dust, pollen, soil particles, and naturally occurring gases. Volcanoes spew out more waste into the air than any other natural occurring even. Forest fires emit huge amounts of carbon into the air. Industrial processes produce a wide range of pollutants. Oil refineries discharge ammonia, hydrocarbons, organic acids, and sulfur oxides. Metal smelting plants give off large amounts of sulfur oxides and particulates containing lead and other metals. Plants that make aluminum expel fluoride dust. Plants that produce plastic foams are a major source of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), compounds of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. These CFCs are a terrible threat to our ozone. Luckily many of the industrialized countries in the world have cut back or ended the production of these CFCs.

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Effects of Air Pollution:

     We all breath the same air, so we have to be concerned with cleaning it up. Many people have breathing disabilities such as asthma. Pollutants in the air can irritate the air passages and make it harder for people to breath. Particulates often remain in the lungs and can often worsen respiratory difficulties such as asthma and bronchitis. Radon can cause lung cancer if inhaled in large quantities. Certain chemical compounds have been known to cause cancer and birth defects. Not only people are hurt by pollutants in the air, forests, live stock, and crops are damaged every year. Air pollution is closely related to other forms of pollution. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can react with water droplets in the air to produce acid rain. Acid rain pollutes lakes and streams and, in high concentrations, can harm soil fertility.

What is being done?

     Many countries in the world have instated emission standards for their cars. The use of the catalytic converter in automobiles has helped reduce the amount of carbon coming out of cars. The United States passed a law in 1967 called the Air Quality Act. Under this act, the federal government sets goals called air quality standards for achieving cleaner air. The states must enforce air pollution controls to meet the goals. When states fail to enforce the regulations, the federal government can act against the polluters by imposing fines.

What can you do?

You can...

  • Car pool, bicycle, walk, and take public transportation.
  • Buy fuel efficient cars. If you keep them properly tuned up, you can get further using less fuel.
  • A healthy tree can recycle 48 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, so you can plant a tree.
  • Don't let your car idle. It's a big contributor to smog.

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