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Air pollution

Air pollution

Air pollution

Air pollution refers to the release of any substance that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere in both indoor and outdoor environments. It is one of the biggest health challenges Humanity faces today.

Air pollution

According to the World Health Organization, only 1% of people breathe air that is suited for their health – the other 99% live in areas where the air contains high levels of pollutants. 

World Bank Group estimates that the health costs of mortality and morbidity caused by PM 2.5 air pollution mount to over 8 trillion dollars, i.e., the equivalent to 6.1% of the global Gross Domestic Product.

Causes of air pollution

Air pollution is caused by particles that are suspended in the air. These particles can come from either natural sources – such as volcanic eruptions, dust winds, wildfires, and biological decay – or from human activity.

As one would expect, man-made sources are the biggest contributors to air pollution. The following is a list of the biggest man-made contributors to air pollution:

  • Combustion from fossil fuels
  • Farming chemicals
  • Household products
  • Emissions from industrial plants 
  • Manufacturing activities

Smog and PM2.5

One of the most visible consequences of air pollution is smog. The name “smog” comes from the early 1900s to describe a mixture of smoke and fog that was a result of intensive coal burning. 

However, today what we experience is photochemical smog that is produced when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC). 

Studies have shown that smog is most commonly caused by large concentrations of fine particles that are two and a half microns or less in width – also referred to as particle matter 2.5 (PM2.5).

These particles have a great impact on human health. Due to their small size, PM2.5 can pass through the filtration of nose hair and reach the lungs where they accumulate and damage other parts of the body through air exchange in the lungs. 

Examples of sources of nitrogen oxides: combustion engine vehicles, industrial sources such as power plants.

Examples of sources of volatile organic compounds: cleaning solvents, paint, gasoline

Air Pollution causes
Image by Jacek Dylag

Air quality monitoring

Air quality monitoring is the process of measurement, operation, and predictive analysis of air pollution in a given area. 

Monitoring stations are equipped with devices that are able to read the different air pollutants as well as temperature and humidity. 

Monitoring air quality is the first step to solving air pollution issues. However, the most prevalent mechanisms to monitor air quality are too scattered. As a consequence, organizations that work under such circumstances are not able to precisely pinpoint the pollution hotspots.

To approach and solve air pollution successfully in a given area, decision-makers must have a dense network of sensors spread across it. 

Air quality sensors

Air quality sensors are devices used to monitor the presence of dangerous air pollutants and toxic gases. 

There are numerous devices in the market that are able to track the key pollution markers in both outdoor and indoor environments. Typical air quality sensors record standard meteorological conditions (temperature and humidity), particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10), and VOC.

Indoor air quality sensors are especially important in the houses of people that have respiratory problems or lung disease.

PlanetWatch has several types of sensors for indoor and outdoor monitoring. Find more about our compliant sensors.

Global warming

Changes in climate can result in impacts on your local air quality. 

Air pollution, including numerous harmful substances such as greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, contributes to global warming. 

In its turn, higher temperatures often lead to a more prevalent presence of harmful air pollutants as well as allergens – longer periods of heat can also mean longer pollen seasons.

As a consequence, thorough monitoring of air quality also means decision-makers can pinpoint and act on the problems that are contributing to global warming.

Air Pollution Global Warming
Image by Patrick Perkins

Environment

Air pollution is also responsible for damaging and contaminating soil.

Ground-level ozone, for instance, leads to reductions in agricultural crops and the growth of forests. It is a major factor responsible for decreasing young trees and other plants’ survivability due to the higher susceptibility to disease and pests.

Moreover, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particles in the air can also create acid rain when mixed with water and oxygen present in the atmosphere. 

Acid rain is responsible for removing vital minerals and nutrients (e.g. magnesium and calcium) from the soil that is needed for the growth of trees and plants. 

Water pollution

All pollutants, even the ones present in the air, eventually make their way to the water.

As is the case with acid rain, when we pollute our air, we are also polluting the precipitation that falls into the soil and water bodies. All forms of life present in the water can be harmed by air pollutants.   

It is important to note that although a lake, river, or ocean may seem clean at first glance, it can be polluted due to acid rain, polluted snow, and particulate matter.

Health effects

Air pollution contributes to respiratory infections, heart disease, and lung cancer.

Short and long-term exposure to air pollutants has been associated with health impacts. Aggravated respiratory diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma can arise more often in areas where air quality is not suitable.

The impacts are more severe on people who are already ill. People from poor communities, children, and the elderly are more susceptible to diseases related to inadequate air quality.

Air pollution also contributes to reducing the resistance to infections, meaning it is responsible for fostering much more than diseases of the respiratory tract.

Prevention

There are several actions you can take to reduce air pollution.

Be as mindful as possible about the usage of resources that contribute to poor air quality, such as combustion engine vehicles. Energy conservation is also extremely important since many countries still rely heavily on burning fossil fuels to generate electricity (in 2019, 63.3% of the global electricity came from fossil fuels). Avoid burning wood, trash, leaves, or any other material.

As individuals, we must stand up for our right to healthy and sustainable environments and hold governments, public institutions, and companies accountable. If you want to take action, you can also educate people around you to be warier regarding their day-to-day actions that can impact air quality.

Solution

Monitor air quality, analyze trends, and tackle the sources of air pollution through data-led initiatives.

In order to fight air pollution efficiently, it’s crucial to collect accurate, real-time, and hyperlocal data to thoroughly inform on the main pollution hotspots and drive targeted change.

PlanetWatch has its own API (application programming interface), which grants public and private institutions access to the data from our extensive air quality monitoring network. Learn more about our API.