Health and Environmental Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution might have been known for ages, but concerns about its effects on the health of living things and the environment were first voiced by the citizens of ancient Rome and Athens.

In modern times, different governments, leaders, organizations, and stakeholders across the world have been voicing concerns about air quality, especially urban air quality, which became worse during the Industrial Revolution.

Mosley (2014) stated that an “age of smoke” has been ushered because of excessive production of coal and widespread discharge of air pollutants from factories in Britain, Germany, the USA, and other countries whose urban areas have witnessed increasing numbers of pollution sources, chimneys, and industrial processes which cause air pollution and air pollution effects on human health, animal health, and the environment.

Health effects of air pollution

Epidemiological and clinical studies and evidence have helped a great deal in assessing the health effects of criteria air pollutants and non-criteria air pollutants (which are similar to air toxics, hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), or toxic air pollutants (TAPs) on human beings.

Air pollution can cause new health conditions or worsen existing health conditions such as: cancer, asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, birth defects, eye diseases, cardiovascular disease, genetic mutations, impaired immune systems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc. The particles present in air, when absorbed by the body, may reduce lung function and increase incidences of respiratory illness.

Various air pollutants often test or challenge the strength and immunity of important body systems (brain, liver, heart, kidneys, lungs, skin, nerves) on short- and long-term bases. Living things and their components are always surrounded by environmental exposures including the type of air pollution and concentration/absence of air pollution or pollutants during the day and night.

Severe air pollution leads to increased cases of hospitalization and deaths due to cardiovascular disease linked to air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ozone, tobacco smoke (which is a major contributor to indoor air pollution), and particulate matter, especially fine particles.

Heart disease and strokes are examples that show the relationship between ambient air pollution and its own hurtful health effects on humans over short- and long-term air pollution (exposure to air pollutants), especially the by-products of automobile combustion.

Environmental effects of air pollution

The Industrial Revolution has emitted and an incalculable amount of hazardous air pollutants, toxic air pollutants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and greenhouse gases into the air.

The environmental effects of the air pollution include—but may not be limited to: ozone depletion which damages crops and reduces crop yields; eutrophication (caused by nutrient deposits found in air pollutants) which causes the growth of algae, fish kills, and destroys plant and animal diversity; acid precipitation which damages bodies of water, soils, and eventually trees; and global warming.

Of serious concern is acid precipitation. It is produced when the sulfur that is discharged into the air, combines with oxygen to form sulfur oxide which, in the presence of hydrogen peroxide or ozone, turns into sulfur trioxide. Sulfur trioxide dissolves in water to produce sulphuric acid.

Acid precipitation can also occur when atmospheric nitrogen is heated to the type of temperatures possessed by steam boilers, and it combines with oxygen to form both nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide which dissolves in water to form nitrous and nitric acids.

Air pollution creates haze (light scattered by air particles) in the environment and often affects people’s visibility which is very important in their lives.

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