Air Pollution – Concept, causes and consequences

We explain what air pollution is, what are its pollutants and causes. Also, its consequences and how to avoid it.

Air pollution
Industry, among others, releases large amounts of harmful gases into the atmosphere.

What is air pollution?

When we speak of air pollution or atmospheric pollution, we refer to the presence in the various air strata that make up the earth’s atmosphere, of materials and forms of energy that are not part of their natural composition and that represent a potential source of harm and inconvenience to life, as they lead to unpredictable and inconvenient chemical reactions.

The atmosphere is a homogeneous mass of gases that we know as air, and that the planet’s gravity holds its surface together, fulfilling defense functions against space events such as meteors, solar radiation (through the ozone layer) and cosmic rays. but also conserving heat, allowing the water cycle, circulating different gaseous elements, etc.

In it some chemical elements predominate over others, mainly nitrogen, oxygen (and ozone), argon, carbon dioxide and water vapor (hydrogen and oxygen). These elements can be adulterated with unpredictable results when they come into contact with gaseous substances resulting from industrial activities, volcanic catastrophes and other events that lead to air pollution.

Much of the responsibility for known air pollution is due to the presence of humans. Not just because industry and other everyday activities release large amounts of harmful gases into the atmosphere, but also because it throws other toxic elements into the water, and when it fulfills its natural cycle (evaporation, condensation and precipitation) it spreads them in the air and on the ground.

In both cases it does so much faster than nature can compensate for its ill effects.

What are air pollutants?

Air pollution
Carbon monoxide is particularly toxic and harmful to life.

The main responsible for air pollution are, in general:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2). And other greenhouse gases, such as methane (CH4).
  • Carbon monoxide (CO). Particularly toxic and harmful to life.
  • Sulfur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx). When they reach the atmosphere, they combine with water vapor and produce sulfuric acid, generating the so-called acid rains.
  • CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons). Gases that were widely used in aerosols or as refrigerants, destroyed the balance of the ozone layer in the atmosphere.
  • Ozone (O3). That although it is naturally found in a specific layer of the atmosphere, by increasing its presence in other layers, it decomposes in the face of solar radiation and releases enormous amounts of energy, artificially heating the atmosphere.

Causes of air pollution

Although phenomena such as the eruption of volcanoes or the fall of meteorites (by raising dust) can have a massive polluting effect on the atmosphere, we must recognize that they are not so recurrent events in the current geological time of our planet, so your responsibility in air pollution it is not as much as we humans have.

Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has industrially transformed materials and dumped their waste into water and into the air, thus contributing to the adulteration of the content of the earth’s atmosphere. Heavy industries, fossil fuel burning power plants and automotive traffic they are a huge source of environmental pollution.

For example, the use of CFC aerosols, for example, caused serious damage to the ozone layer in the atmosphere during the late twentieth century, and the tragedy of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor threw thousands of radioactive particles into the air that the wind carried away towards nearby rural populations, destroying the quality of air, water and soil.

Consequences of air pollution

Air pollution
Polluted air deteriorates the health of people, animals and plants.

The breakdown of the chemical and energy balance of the atmosphere has the following possible consequences:

  • Respiratory problems. Polluted air can deteriorate the health of people and animals and even plants, by containing carcinogenic or poisonous substances.
  • Acid rains. Certain chemical elements react in the atmosphere with water vapor and form acids or corrosive mixtures, which then fall to earth with rain.
  • Deterioration of the water. Air pollution affects water pollution, as it evaporates and precipitates, it comes into contact with atmospheric pollutants.
  • Damage to the ozone layer. In the upper layers of the atmosphere is the ozone layer that protects us from the direct impact of the sun’s rays. Certain gases react with it and “pierce” the protective layer.
  • The greenhouse effect. The presence of certain heavy gases in the atmosphere constitutes an artificial chemical barrier, which prevents a portion of the Earth’s heat from radiating into space, causing the global temperature to rise.

How to avoid air pollution?

Some simple measures to reduce environmental pollution would be:

  • Use filters in chimneys and conduct a responsible industrial activity.
  • Promote alternative energies to the burning of fossil fuels.
  • Eliminate the use of CFC products.
  • Use unleaded gasoline without polluting additives.