Air pollution usually consists of a mix of small particles such as carbon gases, ozone and sulfur oxide — all of which humans create through various activities and processes. This type of pollution is responsible for 6.4 million deaths each year and illnesses like respiratory disease, lung cancer and heart disease. Pollutants can also take a toll on the earth, contributing to global warming and intensifying the greenhouse effect.
While many pollutants come from energy plants and the burning of fossil fuels, there are several causes of air pollution which people don’t often discuss. These may include farming, burning of waste, paint and even cigarettes. And surprisingly, the pollutants from these sources can be just as dangerous as those of an industrial power plant.
1. Agricultural Activities
Emissions from farms may outweigh all other human-made sources of fine-particulate air pollution in the United States. This particulate matter, which is also present in Gurugram, India — the world’s most polluted city — can find its way into the respiratory system, causing lung diseases and even death. The primary origin of this matter is fumes from fertilizer and animal waste mixed with industrial emissions.
This pollution typically comes in the form of ammonia, causing about 3.3 million deaths annually. Farming also produces methane and nitrous oxide, adding to the greenhouse effect.
2. Mining Operations
Just like farming, surface mining introduces particulate matter to the Earth’s surface, which then becomes airborne, traveling to different areas and polluting the atmosphere. Mineral particles can contain hazardous materials such as lead, arsenic and cadmium. These are particularly dangerous to humans who ingest them, breathe them in or absorb them through their skin. If ingestion or absorption happens, it can result in serious illnesses related to the respiratory tract or internal organs.
3. Household Supplies
Indoor pollution is a prevalent hazard because people continue to use cleaning products and paints within their homes without proper ventilation. These substances release harmful fumes and chemicals like formaldehyde, ethyl acetate, glycol and many more. Vapors containing these elements can irritate your nose, throat, lungs and respiratory system.
Bleach, a standard household cleaning product, can also pose a potential threat when mixed with ammonia, another chemical found in glass cleaners. This gaseous blend can produce chloramine gas, which irritates airways for up to 24 hours.
When wildfires sweep over the land, you may first picture all the vegetation, homes and animals they destroy. However, these fires are also a major cause of air pollution. Outdoor pollutants like carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide fill the atmosphere during wildfires and can temporarily increase contamination over thousands of square miles. They also double the amount of particulate matter in both indoor and outdoor air.
In developed countries, indoor particle concentrations from wildfires are about 50% of the increases in outdoor levels. This phenomenon causes adverse health effects, especially in children and the elderly.
Smoking isn’t just bad for your health — it’s also terrible for the environment. According to an Italian study, three cigarettes can emit 10 times more particulate matter than a diesel car’s exhaust. These particles can contribute to lung disease, asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, even in those who do not smoke. Additionally, tobacco smoke releases more than 7,000 chemicals — 69 of which cause cancer — into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and toxic air levels.
Possible Solutions to Air Pollution
Although these causes of air pollution are prevalent around the globe, humans can do their part to minimize their effects. For instance, bans on open burning and management of agricultural products and residues may decrease farming contaminants. And better waste control plans at mining sites can help prevent hazardous particles from entering the atmosphere.
Additionally, the general public can reduce air pollution by kicking their smoking habits and switching out harmful paints and cleaning supplies for organic or non-toxic ones.