Environmental Health: Air Pollution
Environmental Exposure Definition
Environmental exposure is where by human beings, animals, and the physical environment contacts with hazardous substances. The hazardous items are natural and man-made and are harmful to human health. They can be chemical, biological, and physical agents or factors in the environment like pathogens and toxic material. They cause diseases like asthma and cancer. Hazardous substances can stay in the environment for a very long time and harm environment and its organisms in the short and long run. This paper is going to deal with air quality, the environmental health problems that arise, their effects on human beings, and the environment and the solutions to the problems.
Air pollution is the presence of suspended particles and vapors, which are harmful to human health in various degrees, in the normal air. Air is the most essential component in human life. Some countries have even put in policies that prevent air pollution after realizing the negative effects air pollution has on human life. Even with these policies, most countries do not meet the required regulations put in place by the WHO to protect air quality. Cities like Beijing, Jakarta, Delhi, and Mexico are experiencing increasing air pollution, as the years pass. It is unfortunate that they may have poor air quality like in London in the 1950s (Friis, 2011, p. 231).
Causes of Poor Air Quality
Air pollution is caused by human activities and natural activities. Air quality is compromised by primary air pollutants for example, natural air pollution, which comes in form of volcanic ash, dusts, and organic materials, which are carried by the wind (Friis, 2011, p. 232). Dusts clouds are caused by wind storms that scatter the dangerous particles to the air which human beings breathe. Volcanic ash is released when the volcano erupts and releases free crystalline silica. People living near volcanoes are at high risk of inhaling the free crystalline silica that will be deposited in the lungs.
The air is also polluted by secondary air pollutants, which occur from atmospheric chemical reactions. Secondary air pollutants are anthropogenic sources. Anthropogenic sources are classified into stationery sources and mobile sources. Concerning the stationary sources, it is worthwhile to mention factories and manufacturing plants. Due to industrialization, air quality has been compromised over the years. Natural fossil fuels i.e. gasoline, oil, and wood produce toxic fumes when they combust in order to produce energy or heat. The gases produced are sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ground level ozone, and some particles like lead. Indoor air quality in the home is important. Indoor air pollution is caused by gas stoves and use of construction materials with formaldehyde. Children living in damp and unventilated environments become sensitive to allergens and, hence, are at risk of developing asthma.
Ozone is produced when chemical reactions occur during combustion of the fossil fuels with solvents and paints. The ozone is supposed to protect the earth from ultra-violet rays. Carbon monoxide is produced when the fossil fuels are not burnt fully. It is harmful when human beings are exposed to it in unventilated rooms, spaces, or mines. Smoking also leads to carbon monoxide exposure to the smoker. When diesel fuels are burnt by vehicles, especially trucks and buses, road construction activities, and industrial processes, they produce aerosol particles. When the power plants use coal to produce paper and smelt metals, they produce sulphur dioxide that forms sulphuric acid, which produces acidic rain.
The third problem is the mobile sources under secondary air pollutants, which include vehicles i.e. on-road and off-road vehicles. Mobile sources include use of un-refined petroleum fuels. When gasoline is burned by the car engine in private and commercial vehicles, it produces gases that are dark and harmful to human health and the environment. The gases produced are referred to as smog. As time passes, more and more individuals purchase vehicles to be able to move around easily. This is because their countries have not been able to put in place efficient and effective transport systems (Friis, 2011, p. 236).
Effects of Air Pollution
Air pollution is a danger to human health .Once the harmful gases are released into the atmosphere, they are inhaled by human beings and affect the internal organs, for example, the lungs. In primary pollutants, which are natural, volcanic dusts create irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract. In the end, one can become ill with pneumoconiosis, which is a lung disease. This exposure to the hazardous gases is usually observed in the workplace if the individuals are in contact with diesel fumes (Friis, 2011, p. 241).The lung, being the main organ that circulates air to the rest of the body, is then infected and the person has lung cancer, which prevents optimal functioning of the lung.
Asthma is another respiratory disease that is caused by air pollution. When an individual is exposed to tobacco smoke, pollen, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and molds for a long period of time, he/ she starts having some difficulties in breathing and tightness in the chest. Other factors that increase the risk to have asthma are psychological, allergenic, socioeconomic, and familial ones. Examples of these factors are animal fur, stress, dust mites, and cockroaches. Asthma is a very serious disease, as it can lead to death in the long run if not treated in the right way.
The second and third problems that are caused by secondary air pollutants, i.e. stationery and mobile sources, cause various effects, as explained below. The photochemical smog that produces ozone affects the respiratory tract and causes lung infection, allergic respiratory diseases, respiratory infections, swelling and inflammation, local irritation in the eyes, and increased colds. It also decreases visibility in the air (Friis, 2011, p. 246). The nitrogen oxides, being another cause of air pollution, result in acidic rains, which lead to the weathering of marble buildings. Although nitrogen consists of the highest percentage in normal air, its oxides also cause respiratory problems.
Inhaled carbon monoxide leads to death, coronary heart disease, circulatory lung, mental, and physical impairment and respiratory diseases. Aerosol particles cause throat, eye and nose irritation, bronchitis, and lung damage. These particles lead to degradation of vehicles, buildings, and clothing. Sulphur dioxide leads to asthma attacks and coughing. Sulphuric acid is essential in production of acidic rain, which creates abnormality in the acidic levels in the environment. The acidity damages the environment, wildlife, and human health (Friis, 2011, p. 240).
Global warming is also an effect of air pollution. When fossil fuels i.e. coal and petroleum are burnt, they release chlorofluorocarbon gases that deplete the ozone layer. The gases arise from anthropogenic activities. High levels of gases trap the heat on earth and increase the temperature on earth which in turn causes cancer diseases (Friis, 2011, p. 253).High temperatures also lead to heat waves, which are deadly to human being (Friis, 2011, p. 258).
Solutions to the Environmental Problems Caused by Air Pollution
All the diseases that are caused by air pollution can be prevented by individuals ensuring they are in a well ventilated space. This will prevent indoor air pollution, which is production of carbon monoxide, sulphur compounds, and nitorous oxides, which are produced when the fossil fuels are partially burnt. This can lead to various health problems as explained above. Communities should use more efficient energy technologies to reduce secondary air pollution by the manufacturing and production plants that use fossil fuels for their production processes (260). They can use the concentrated solar power that uses sunlight which is focused by mirrors to heat liquid to a high temperature. The fluid can be synthetic oil or pressurized steam. The heated liquid is stored and can be used as light at night (Tester, 2005).
To solve the problem of acidic rain, the communities should also ensure they use the environmentally friendly energy sources. Geothermal energy is extracted from the hot water and steam under the earth. It is good for industrial processes and heats domestic water (Tester, 2005). This will be more applicable to the manufacturing plants, which have industrial processes requiring huge amounts of energy.
Conserving energy through regulations by the government will also reduce chances of using them and emission of dangerous gases to the atmosphere. Through carbon capture and storage, it will also reduce acidic rain, as the produced carbon oxides will be found in lesser amount in the environment. This will be done at the areas where carbon is being emitted e.g. depleted gas fields and the power plants. The CCS equipment will be added to a coal fired power plant for the power plants emitting dangerous gases into the atmosphere.
The issue of global warming will be solved by changing the energy production sector, which will reduce dangerous gases emissions by companies and vehicles, since it is caused by the emission of carbon dioxide, methane gas, soot particles, and aerosol particles. This can be done by use of wind turbines to produce energy in the power plants and the houses by individuals for small energy uses (Masters, 2004). The communities should ensure that rules are kept on which petroleum gases are to be used in vehicles and unrefined petroleum gases should not be used. When global warming is reduced by using safe energy sources, it will lead to reduction of temperatures and reduction of skin cancer (UN, 2007).
The environmental justice movement required governments in countries to pass the Air Quality Act made in 2004. The government can also establish an air monitoring system in their country. This will decrease air pollution in the long run. The government should put into consideration projects like building roads, mines, or industrial developments that may compromise the air quality.
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