Air pollution: it's what makes your hair smell, your whites turn grey, your eyes burn and your cough even worse. Air pollution is a modern hazard, one that gets worse as we continue to burn fuel and pump out noxious gases. Yet air pollution isn't just something that happens on a global scale and that we have no hand in. Every time we burn rubbish, start up the car, light a cigarette, use an aerosol spray and send out waste to landfills we are at fault for polluting the air around us. Thankfully, with a little more effort we can all greatly reduce our pollution contribution.
What is Air Pollution?Clean air is made up of only a few main ingredients - nitrogen, oxygen, and water (vapour). As we have industrialised, our cities have grown and traffic has increased. With these developments there has come an increase in the number of by-products released into the air, such as particles from burning fuels and noxious gases from the many chemical reactions that occur every day. These gases, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, are not natural to the composition of air, and so become pollutants.
What is Indoor Air Pollution?Indoor air pollution is a growing concern as well. In addition to the pollution in our "fresh" air outside, our lifestyles also result in air pollution inside our very own homes. Many contributing factors to indoor air pollution include:
- Asbestos in the building and insulating materials of the building.
- Carbon monoxide leaking from appliances and/or heating equipment.
- Formaldehyde in furnishings, carpets and panelling.
- Outdoor air pollution that filters in through doors and windows.
- Fumes from cleaning products.
- Chemicals released from cigarette smoke.
- Mould growing in damp areas.
- Particles released from burning wood.
- Lead, particularly from pipes and older types of paint.
- Radon leaking in through floors, walls and even drains.
- Personal and health care products that contain aerosols.
- Air conditioning and heating systems that recycle this polluted air.
Why Does Air Pollution Matter?Air pollution has direct consequences for all of us. On a large scale, air pollution results in:
- Smog - pollutant particles that often mix with fog and restrict visibility.
- Acid rain - rain, snow, fog and even mist layered with pollution.
- The Greenhouse Effect - a condition in which pollution stops radiation from travelling out of the Earth's atmosphere. This upset to the natural process means that temperatures on Earth may not be maintained within natural ranges.
- Global warming - temperatures on Earth become warmer due to the Greenhouse Effect.
- Holes in the ozone layer - this layer of ozone naturally keeps ultra-violet rays from the sun from reaching Earth. Holes make it possible for the rays to reach us.
But How Does Air Pollution Affect Us?The wide-reaching effects of air pollution may seem remote from your own life, but they aren't. Air pollution has local effects as well, and can:
- Irritate your eyes, noses, throats and respiratory tracts.
- Make your hair and clothes smell bad.
- Bring on or worsen asthma attacks.
- Create coughs, runny noses and watery eyes as your body tries to clear pollutants.
- Cause headaches.
- Dull and dirty your clothes, especially white and light colours.
- Contribute to bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Increase your risk of skin cancer from ultra violet rays.
- Increase your risk of lung cancer.
- Change the climate to such a degree that natural disasters may occur.
So How Can You Combat Air Pollution?Don't let all the bad news about air pollution get you down because the good news is that there are many ways to help combat the problem. Every one of us can employ a variety of air pollution solutions, including:
- Quitting smoking.
- Choosing organic and natural cleaning and personal care products.
- Driving less and carpool more.
- Keeping your heating low and put on a sweater or blanket when you get cold.
- Installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
- Saving energy by turning off and unplugging unused appliances.
- Having your house inspected for lead and asbestos.
- Being on guard against damp and mould.
- Nurturing trees and plants.