The Earth’s atmosphere incorporates a complex gaseous system, which is fundamental for supporting human life, as well as the Earth’s ecosystems. Air, which forms the atmosphere, is essential as it generates oxygen and other gases that are vital for life sustenance. It is within the atmosphere that human beings can maintain or destroy the quality of air. However, air pollution has become a hazard to the ground level ozone, leading to low quality air, as human beings continue to release harmful substances into the atmosphere.
Air pollution is not something new in human existence. It is an activity that results in damage of air quality, as well as climate change. When harmful gases are released to the atmosphere, they react with infrared leading to poor health, in addition to harming the Earth’s ecosystem. The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of several gases, which are usually nonreactive and stable. According to Vallero, the largest part of the atmosphere (99.997%) is made up of four main gases; namely, nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), argon (Ar), and carbon dioxide (CO2) (3). Additionally, such gases carry a lot of weight, where 99% of that weight hangs within 50 kilometers from the earth’s surface. This situation makes atmosphere become exceedingly vulnerable to air pollution.
Gases that interfere with air quality (or air pollutants) are freed into the atmosphere through man-made activities, leading to environmental risks. For instance, carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx), are among the primary pollutants that are released through the exhausts of vehicles. Primary air pollutants are released directly into the air mainly through anthropogenic sources, such as vehicles, airplanes, and industries (R. F. Phalen and R. N. Phalen 70). Primary pollutants are also involved in the progression of secondary air pollutants.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is very poisonous, and is usually formed when ignition of carbon gases fail to complete. During combustion process, the provision of oxygen should be adequate to generate CO2, but when oxygen is not supplied sufficiently, it results in carbon monoxide. CO may result in health effects since it reduces delivery of oxygen to the body organs, which may lead to death. Excessive exposure to CO may inhibit the capacity to carry oxygen in the blood. When a person suffering from heart disease inhales too much CO, he/she may experience low level of oxygen in the heart.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) appear in different forms, but initial emission comes out as nitrogen oxide (NO), which is not destructive to the atmosphere. However, nitrogen oxide becomes harmful when it mixes with oxygen to form NO2 (Spellman 142). NO2 has an unpleasant smell, and may become poisonous if inhaled in high quantity. NO2 may contribute to respiratory problems, since it can reduce immunity leading to lung infections. When NO2 mixes with the hydroxyl radical, it forms nitric acid, which contributes to acid rain. Acid rain results in loss of aquatic life due to excess acid in lakes and rivers. Acid rain also affects forests, which contributes in purifying air. When fossil fuels burn at high temperatures, they form the largest source of NOx. Most NO2 are found in urban areas where emissions from exhaust pipes are high.
Secondary air pollutants usually form when primary air pollutants mix with each other within the earth’s atmosphere through physical or chemical reactions (R. F. Phalen and R. N. Phalen 70). Examples of secondary pollutants include ground level ozone (O3), ammonium (NH4+), particulates, sulphuric acid (H2SO4), and nitric acid (HNO3). Such pollutants are emitted directly from natural sources and then convert to new substances through interaction with the sunlight.
One of the familiar air pollutants is ground level ozone (O3). O3 originates from a chemical reaction that involves NO and volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are usually gaseous under ordinary atmospheric conditions (Spellman 144). O3 forms the key element in photochemical smog and it effect on human being include irritation of eyes and throat, coughing, as well as reducing lung function. O3 also has an effect on plants, where plants experience redundant growth and low productivity.
Particulates are small pieces of fluid that are suspended in the air, and usually incorporate inorganic elements, radioactive substances, organic and inorganic compounds. Particulates are harmful to human health if they are inhaled in the lungs, as they can cause cardiac disorder, asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections (Spellman 143). Ammonium and sulphuric acid are other secondary pollutants that that cause burning of the nose and severe lung damage, respectively.
Human activities often interfere with air quality, and the consequences of such activities are pollution of air within the Earth’s atmosphere. Air pollutants incorporate substances that are not components of the atmosphere, and have the capacity to distort the quality of air, leading to health problems. Primary air pollutants originate from natural sources while secondary air pollutants are derived from chemical reactions involving primary pollutants. Human beings need fresh air to survive while plants need oxygen to undergo the photosynthesis and produce non-toxic foods. Individuals should endeavor to conserve their environment by working on methods that can reduce air pollution and enhance air quality.
Phalen, Robert F, and Robert N. Phalen. Introduction to Air Pollution Science: A Public Health Perspective. Burlington, Mass: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2013. Print.
Spellman, Frank R. The Science of Environmental Pollution. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2010. Print.
Vallero, Daniel A. Fundamentals of Air Pollution. Waltham, MA: Academic Press, 2014. Internet resource.