Air pollution refers to the presence of contaminants, or harmful substances in our air that create a hazard to general health. Pollution levels are measured by the number of contaminant particles as a percentage of air.
A variety of sources contribute to pollution, including nitrate fertilizers, diesel soot, sulfate aerosols and road dust. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gasoline and wood is the primary cause of particulate matter in the air.
The effects of air pollution are wide ranging and include harm to our health and damage to the environment.
Short-Term Health Effects
Young people and the elderly often suffer more effects of pollution than other people. Short-term effects of air pollution may include bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections. People with asthma and lung disease are often advised to stay inside when pollution levels are high because pollution may aggravate their conditions.
Other short-term effects of air pollution include eye and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and allergic reactions.
Long-Term Health Effects
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), exposure to fine particulate matter increases risk of heart attack, stoke and heart failure. AHA statistics indicate long-term exposure to particulate matter reduces life expectancy. People living in cities with the highest air levels of air pollution may have their life expectancy reduced by two years.
Other long-term health effects of air pollution may include chronic lung disease, lung cancer and other cancers and even kidney and liver damage.
Environmental Effects-Acid Rain
Acid rain is the result of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides being released into the atmosphere where they react with water, oxygen and other chemicals to form acidic pollutants that fall as acid rain.
Trees and forests are harmed because the chemicals in the acid rain affect nutrients in the soil that trees need to be healthy. Acid rain also introduces aluminum into the soil, inhibiting trees' ability to take up water. The lack of water and vital nutrients make trees vulnerable to disease, insects and other negative environmental conditions.
Runoff from acid rain finds its way into lakes and streams where it changes the chemical composition of the water, which can be lethal to aquatic wildlife.
Environmental Effects-Climate Change
Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas associated with burning fossil fuels, is the primary pollutant causing climate change. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher than they have been in thousands of years. Other greenhouse gases such as methane and the now banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) join carbon dioxide in contributing to the deterioration of the Earth's ozone layer and resulting global warming.
Sulfur dioxide, another pollutant associated with burning fossil fuels, is typically associated with acid rain, but it also contributes to climate change. Many years ago volcanoes were the principle source of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. Today people are.
- Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute-Pollution
- National Geographic: Air Pollution
- HealthandEnergy: Health Effects of Air Pollution
- American Heart Association: Air Pollution's Link to Heart Disease, Death
- EPA: What Causes Acid Rain
- National Resources Defense Council: Asthma and Air Pollution
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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