Air Pollution | How to Measure it and its 7 Severe Effects

Air Pollution | How to Measure it and its Severe Effects

The presence of toxic chemicals or compounds in the air (including those of biological origin) at levels that are damaging to human health is referred to as air pollution.

  • Air pollution, in a general sense, refers to the presence of chemicals or compounds in the air that is not ordinarily present and decrease the air’s quality.
  • One of the most important environmental issues affecting our civilization today is air pollution. Human activities such as mining, construction, transportation, industrial operations, agriculture, smelting, and others are frequently the causes of air pollution.
Air Pollution
Air Pollution | Image Source: Britannica
  • Natural processes such as volcanic eruptions and wildfires can pollute the air, but they are uncommon and usually have a limited impact, unlike human activities, which are omnipresent sources. Every day, we contribute to global air pollution by releasing pollutants into the atmosphere.

Government agencies employ an Air Quality Index (AQI) to inform the public about how filthy the air is now and how dirty it is expected to grow. As the AQI grows, so do the threats to public health. Air quality indices differ by country and correspond to distinct national air quality standards. The Air Quality Health Index (Canada), the Air Pollution Index (Malaysia), and the Pollutant Standards Index are only a few of them (Singapore).

A new National Air Quality Index (AQI) was established in October 2014 to offer information on air quality to the general public in an easily understandable format. PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb are the eight pollutants for which short-term (up to 24-hourly averaging period) National Ambient Air Quality Standards are set, and the worst reading in these pollutants reflects the AQI for that city.

Annual average PM2.5 concentrations should not exceed 5 g/m3, and 24-hour average exposures should not exceed 15 g/m3 more than 3 – 4 days per year, according to the new guidelines.

Interim targets have been set to aid in the planning of incremental milestones toward cleaner air, especially for cities, regions, and countries with high levels of pollution. The annual mean for PM2.5 is 35 g/m3, while the 24-hour mean is 75 g/m3.

  • The annual mean of 25 g/m3, 24-hour mean of 50 g/m3.
  • The annual mean of 15 g/m3, 24-hour mean of 37.5 g/m3.
  • The annual mean of 10 g/m3, 24-hour mean of 25 g/m3.
  • For the remaining major pollutants, the new suggested guideline values are:

PM10 concentrations of 15 g/m3 yearly mean, 45 g/m3 24-hour mean (particulate matter having a diameter of 10 microns or smaller).

◉⫸ How does Air Pollution affect the environment?

◆ Respiratory and heart problems –

The consequences of air pollution are grave. They are a threat to human health. They have been linked to a variety of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as cancer. Several million people are thought to have died as a result of air pollution, either directly or indirectly.

Child health problems –
  • Premature delivery, autism, asthma, and spectrum disorder in early children are all caused by exposure to high amounts of air pollution during pregnancy.
  • It also has the potential to harm a child’s early brain development and cause pneumonia, which kills almost a million children under the age of five. In regions where air pollution is present, children are more likely to develop short-term respiratory infections and pulmonary illnesses.
Global Warming –

Another direct result of global warming is the current changes that the planet is experiencing.

Increased global temperatures, rising sea levels due to melting ice from colder places and icebergs, relocation, and habitat loss have already foreshadowed an oncoming crisis if preservation and normalisation measures are not done quickly.

Acid Rain –

Harmful substances such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides are released into the environment when fossil fuels are burned. When it rains, water droplets mix with impurities in the air, causing them to become acidic and fall to the ground as acid rain. Humans, animals, and agriculture are all at risk from acid rain.


Eutrophication is a phenomenon in which a large amount of nitrogen found in some pollutants accumulates on the sea surface and transforms into algae, causing harm to fish, plants, and animals.

The presence of this chemical is solely responsible for the prevalence of green-coloured algae in lakes and ponds.

Effect on wildlife-

Animals, like humans, are subjected to the harmful effects of air pollution. Toxic substances in the air can compel wildlife species to relocate and modify their environment. Toxic contaminants settle on the water’s surface, posing a threat to sea life.

Depletion of the Ozone layer –

Ozone is found in the stratosphere of the Earth and protects humans from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. The ozone layer on Earth is being degraded by the presence of chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere.

As the ozone layer thins, damaging rays are emitted back to Earth, potentially causing skin and eye problems. UV rays have the power to harm crops as well.

◉⫸ Air Pollution Map

World Pollution Map
World Pollution Map | Image Source: waqi

◉⫸ What are the Air Pollution guidelines?

The WHO Air Quality Guidelines: Global Update 2021 provide an assessment of the health consequences of air pollution as well as pollution levels that are detrimental to human health.

  • In 2019, 99% of the world’s population lived in areas where air quality standards set by the WHO was not reached.
  • In 2016, it was projected that ambient (outside air pollution) caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide, in both cities and rural areas.
  • Low- and middle-income countries accounted for 91 per cent of the premature deaths, with the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific areas accounting for the majority.
  • Cleaner transportation, energy-efficient houses, electricity generation, industry, and better municipal waste management policies and investments will minimise the main sources of outdoor air pollution.
  • Indoor smoke, in addition to outside air pollution, is a severe health danger for the 2.6 billion people who use biomass, kerosene, and coal to cook and heat their houses.

◉⫸ Air Pollution and Greenhouse Effect:

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are examples of air pollution.

Mechanism – Greenhouse gases capture heat from the Sun in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the temperature to warm. Although greenhouse gases are a natural component of the Earth’s atmosphere, their rising levels in our atmosphere since the early 1900s have caused the temperature to warm.

  • Vehicle exhaust, pollutants discharged from smokestacks at companies and power plants, agricultural emissions, and other sources all contribute to the rise. According to scientists, the Earth will warm faster this century than it did in the previous century.
  • A rise in ozone pollution, or smog, is triggering warming in the Arctic areas, according to a NASA study.
  • The troposphere’s ozone is both greenhouse gas and a health threat. During the winter and spring months, ozone pollution produced in the Northern Hemisphere is transferred to the Arctic, causing warming.
  • The region where ozone pollution originates has the most influence, thus certain areas are warming more than others.
  • The Arctic is currently warming faster than any other portion of the globe, partly due to ozone pollution, but also due to positive feedback loops in which heat melts snow and ice, modifying the Earth’s surface and leading to even more warming.

◉⫸ Air Pollution and Climate Change

Air pollution and climate change are intricately related.

  • The biggest source of CO2 emissions – the exploitation and burning of fossil fuels – is also a major source of air pollution, contributing to climate change.
  • Furthermore, many air pollutants influence the amount of incoming sunlight reflected or absorbed by the atmosphere, with some pollutants warming the Earth and others cooling it, contributing to climate change.
  • Methane, black carbon, ground-level ozone, and sulphate aerosols are examples of short-lived climate-forcing pollutants (SLCPs).
  • They have a significant impact on the climate: black carbon and methane are two of the most significant contributions to global warming, after CO2.
  • Rapid CO2 emission reductions are required, but not sufficient, to meet the Paris Agreement objective of reducing global warming to 1.5 (or even 2) degrees Celsius.
  • Deep reductions in emissions of non-CO2 climate forcers, particularly the air pollutants methane and black carbon, are also critical, according to the IPCC special report on the implications of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • While decarbonisation of the economy will cut CO2 and air pollution emissions in general, pursuing the phaseout of fossil fuels is insufficient — for both air quality and climate.

◉⫸ How to avoid air pollution at home?

  • To increase ventilation, do like your grandparents did and open the windows. It’s vital to use the extractor fan when cooking because nitrogen dioxide levels can exceed those found on the most polluted highways.
  • Indoors, don’t smoke or use candles. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, make sure it is properly installed and used. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed.
  • Use a doormat to keep dirt out of your house and/or encourage visitors to remove their shoes when they come to see you.
  • Reduce your usage of cleaning products and air fresheners that include limonene, especially those that contain it (which gives the lemon citrus smell).
  • Purchase some houseplants. NASA and the University of York, both for the BBC, revealed that plants could lower formaldehyde levels in the house.
  • Choose a floor with a hard surface. Carpets are easy to clean, and they allow dirt and pet hair to escape into the air.

Maintain a humidity level of 30% to 50% in your home and make sure moist areas, such as bathrooms, are properly ventilated. This aids in the prevention of mould, which has been linked to upper respiratory issues. Babies and children, the elderly, and individuals with respiratory issues such as allergies and asthma are all more sensitive than others.

◉⫸ How to control Air Pollution-

Pollutants in the air must be controlled for the sake of human health and the ecosystem. Poor air quality has a negative impact on human health, particularly the respiratory and cardiovascular system

  • Pollution control devices can be used by industries to eliminate pollutants by absorbing, filtering, diluting, or spreading them.
  • Licensing and regulation by the government are effective approaches to reduce industrial emissions.
  • A variety of physical procedures can be used to remove airborne particles from a polluted airstream.
  • Cyclones, scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators, and baghouse filters are all common forms of fine particulate collection equipment.
  • Particulates stick together once they’ve been gathered, forming agglomerates that can be easily removed from the equipment and disposed of, usually in a landfill.

The three fundamental approaches for controlling gaseous criterion pollutants, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other gaseous air toxics, are absorption, adsorption, and incineration (or combustion).

  • Absorption is the transfer of a gaseous pollutant from the air into a contacting liquid, such as water, in the context of air pollution control. The liquid must be able to either act as a pollutant’s solvent or capture it through a chemical reaction.
  • Adsorption is a surface phenomenon. Gas molecules are sorbed (attracted to and held) on a solid’s surface. In a number of chemical manufacturing and food processing facilities, as well as for the recovery of a variety of volatile chemicals, gas adsorption methods are used.
  • VOCs and other gaseous hydrocarbon pollutants can be converted to carbon dioxide and water via a method called incineration or combustion (chemically, fast oxidation). VOCs and hydrocarbon vapours are normally incinerated in a special incinerator known as an afterburner. The afterburner must generate enough turbulence and burning time, as well as maintain a high enough temperature, to achieve complete combustion. Because it minimises the needed burning time and temperature, sufficient turbulence, or mixing, is a vital element in combustion. Direct flame incineration is a method that can be employed.

◉⫸ How to Reduce Air Pollution:

Using public transit: which uses less gasoline and electricity, is a surefire way to help reduce air pollution; even carpools can assist. Taking public transit can save you money while also reducing the amount of fuel and gas discharged into the atmosphere.

Turn off the lights when not in useReduced power usage can help save energy because the energy used by lighting adds to air pollution.

Reuse and recycle: Recycling and Reuse are beneficial to the environment since they not only help to save resources and use them wisely, but they also help to minimise pollution emissions.

Plastic bags are not allowed: Plastic objects may be detrimental to the environment because of their oil-based nature, which takes a long time to disintegrate. Paper bags, on the other hand, are a better option because they decompose fast and are recyclable.

Forest fires and smoking: Smoking leads to air pollution and deterioration of air quality, as well as affecting one’s health, and is a major source of waste collection and setting it ablaze in dry seasons, or dry leaves catching flames.

When it comes to chimneys, use filters: The gas emitted by fireplaces in homes and businesses is very harmful to the environment and has a substantial detrimental influence on air quality. Filters should be employed if consumption cannot be reduced, as this will help to limit the effect of harmful gases absorbed in the air.

Stay away from crackers: Unfortunately, the use of crackers at festivals and weddings is one of the leading causes of air pollution, resulting in a haze that is hazardous to one’s health. As a result, crackers are not advised to be used.

Stay away from chemical-based products. For example, Paints and Perfumes could be used less.

Make afforestation a priority: Finally, make a concerted effort to plant and care for as many trees as possible. Planting trees provides a number of environmental advantages and aids in the release of oxygen.

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