Air pollution is one of our era’s biggest scourges, not only because of the impact it causes on climate change but also because it influences public and individual health due to chronic illness and death. The effects of air pollution range from environmental effects like global warming to even financial and health effects like coma and death.
Here’s the truth. According to WHO figures, air pollution-related diseases claimed the lives of 6.5 million people globally in 2012. That’s more than HIV/AIDS, TB, and road accidents combined, accounting for 11.6% of all world deaths. Shocking, right?
In this blog, I will show you the different effects of air pollution in detail. Let’s get started with the classification of the effects.
Also read : Causes of Air Pollution
Classification of Air Pollution Effects
The adverse effects of air pollution can be divided into two classes.
Acute effects of air pollution appear immediately upon short term exposure to the pollutants at relatively high concentrations.
Chronic effects don’t appear immediately, rather become evident only after long term exposure to low levels of air pollutants.
Air Pollution Effects on Environment
Not only does air pollution impair our health, but it also harms the environment in which we live. The following are the most significant environmental effects.
One of the most alarming effects for scientists and environmentalists is likely global warming. The greenhouse effect, which is caused by the excessive emission of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, causes global warming.
Another effect of global warming is climate change. When the planet’s temperature rises, the typical climatic cycles are disrupted, accelerating the changes of these cycles noticeably.
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are two gases released into the atmosphere as a result of fossil fuel combustion. When those compounds build up in the atmosphere and react with water, they produce dilute nitric and sulphuric acid solutions. They mix with the rain and reaches the surface of Earth as acid rain.
- The smog effect, sometimes known as the beret effect, occurs when a dense dark fog forms over cities and fields. This fog is made up of pollutants.
- There are two varieties of smog: sulphurous smog and photochemical smog.
- The smog of both forms is a result of industrial and urban activity.
- When nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) combine with sunlight, photochemical smog is created, resulting in a brown cloud above cities.
- Sulphurous smog, on the other hand, is mostly caused by the usage of coal in numerous industrial operations.
Deterioration of Crop Fields
- The Earth’s surface is degraded by acid rain, climate change, and smog.
- Polluted water and gases infiltrate into the ground, altering the soil’s makeup.
- This has a direct impact on agriculture, as crop cycles change and the composition of the food we eat changes.
- In India, it was reported in 2014 that air pollution from black carbon and ground-level ozone had cut crop yields in the most impacted areas by nearly half in 2011 compared to 1980 levels in the most afflicted districts.
Extinction of animals
- Many animal species that rely on oceans and rivers for existence are threatened as the poles’ ice melts and sea levels rise.
- Because currents, ocean temperatures, and migratory cycles fluctuate, many creatures are driven to seek food in unfamiliar environments.
- Ecosystems and habitats are also disappearing as a result of deforestation and low soil quality. And, without a doubt, this leads to the extinction of many wild animals.
Deterioration of construction materials
Because air pollutants degrade and modify the composition of building materials, many structures and infrastructure are weakened, degraded, or destroyed at a faster rate over time. The air pollution has been turning the Taj Mahal yellow-brown.
The pollutants penetrate the inner leaf tissues through stomata and destroy the chlorophyll. This disrupts photosynthesis. The damages caused ranges from chlorosis, necrosis, epinasty to the death of the plant. Cement dust deposits along with mist or rain cause incrustations in the leaves.
Air Pollution Effects on Materials
Pollutants in the air have the following effects on materials, resulting in economic losses.
- Materials deposition
- Chemical attack
Sulphuric Acid mist in the atmosphere leads to the deterioration of structural materials like marble and limestone. Leather readily absorbs sulphur dioxide and gets disintegrated. Ozone causes the weathering of fabrics like acetate, cotton, nylon and polyester. At atmospheric levels of 0.01 to 0.02 ppm, it can cause the cracking of synthetic rubber. Particulates erode the exposed surface of materials and accelerate their corrosion.
Air Pollution Effects on Human Health
Air pollution has a variety of negative health consequences. Even on days when air pollution is low, vulnerable and sensitive people’s health can be harmed. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorders), cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, asthma, and respiratory disease are all linked to short-term exposure to air pollution.
Let me describe the health effects caused by each of the major air pollutants.
Oxides of Sulphur
- When people are exposed to an atmosphere with sulphur dioxide concentrations above permissible levels, they get respiratory ailments.
- At higher temperatures, their visibility is also affected.
- Even at low concentrations of 1.6 ppm, it can cause bronchoconstriction in healthy individuals.
- At higher concentrations, it leads to throat and eye irritation and immediate coughing.
- Carbon monoxide is released as a result of incomplete combustion of fuels in petrol engines, industrial operations, and other sources.
- When CO is inhaled it mixes with the haemoglobin in the blood and forms carboxyhaemoglobin.
- The affinity of CO towards haemoglobin is 200 times that of oxygen.
- This condition deprives the tissues of oxygen.
- When carboxyhaemoglobin saturation levels are about 20%, it affects the heart and also damages tissues by restricting oxygen.
- Since the blood supply to vital organs including the brain is obstructed it can lead to mental impairment, visual acuity and even fatal coma at higher COHb levels in the blood.
Oxides of Nitrogen
When NO2 is inhaled it reaches the moist alveoli of the lungs. There it is converted to nitrous and nitric acids which are highly irritating. They can damage the lung tissues. Long term exposure leads to symptoms resembling emphysema and biochemical alterations in blood.
- Particulate matter of size less than 0.5 micrometres gets deposited in the alveoli and damage the respiratory tissues.
- They can also act as carriers of toxic gases such as SO2 and produce synergistic effects.
- Long-term exposure to PM2.5 raises the risk of non-accidental mortality by 6% for every 10 micrograms/m3 increase in concentration.
- PM2.5 exposure was also linked to an elevated risk of lung cancer mortality ranging from 15% to 21% per 10 micrograms/m3 increase.
Shall we wrap up?
To sum up, air pollution affects not only humans but also our mother nature and other living beings. The effects of air pollution include environmental, economical and health effects. So it’s our responsibility to keep air pollution in check for a better tomorrow.