Picture courtesy of U. Why does that matter? Pure water is neither acidic nor alkaline but completely neutral we say it has an acidity level or pH of 7. Ordinary rainwater is a little bit more acidic than this with about the same acidity as bananas roughly pH 5. When acid rain accumulates in lakes or rivers, it gradually turns the entire water more acidic. That's a real problem because fish thrive only in water that is neutral or slightly acidic typically with a pH of 6.
Once the acidity drops below about pH 6. Acid rain has caused major problems in lakes throughout North America and Europe. It also causes the death of forests, reduces the fertility of soil, and damages buildings by eating away stonework the marble on the US Capitol in Washington, DC has been eroded by acid-rain, for example. One of the biggest difficulties in tackling acid rain is that it can happen over very long distances. In one notable case, sulfur dioxide air pollution produced by power plants in the UK was blamed for causing acid rain that fell on Scandinavian countries such as Norway, producing widespread damage to forests and the deaths of thousands of fish in acidified lakes.
The British government refused to acknowledge the problem and that was partly why the UK became known as "the dirty man of Europe" in the s and s. It's hard to imagine doing anything so dramatic and serious that it would damage our entire, enormous planet—but, remarkable though it may seem, we all do things like this everyday, contributing to problems such as global warming and the damage to the ozone layer two separate issues that are often confused.
Every time you ride in a car, turn on the lights, switch on your TV , take a shower, microwave a meal, or use energy that's come from burning a fossil fuel such as oil, coal, or natural gas, you're almost certainly adding to the problem of global warming and climate change: unless it's been produced in some environmentally friendly way, the energy you're using has most likely released carbon dioxide gas into the air. While it's not an obvious pollutant, carbon dioxide has gradually built up in the atmosphere, along with other chemicals known as greenhouse gases.
Together, these gases act a bit like a blanket surrounding our planet that is slowly making the mean global temperature rise, causing the climate the long-term pattern of our weather to change, and producing a variety of different effects on the natural world, including rising sea levels. Read more in our main article about global warming and climate change.
Photo: Global air pollution: The purple area is the huge hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica caused by CFC chemicals in aerosol sprays and refrigerants. Global warming is a really dramatic effect of air pollution produced by humans, but that doesn't mean it's an insoluble problem.
People have already managed to solve another huge air pollution problem that affected the whole world: the damage to a part of the atmosphere called the ozone layer. At ground level, ozone is an air pollutant—but the ozone that exists in the stratosphere high up in the atmosphere , is exactly the opposite: it's a perfectly natural chemical that protects us like sunscreen , blocking out some of the Sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. During the 20th century, people started using large quantities of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons CFCs , because they worked very well as cooling chemicals in refrigerators and propellant gases in aerosol cans propellants are the gases that help to fire out air freshener, hair spray, or whatever else the can contains.
In , scientists Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland suggested that chlorofluorocarbons attacked and destroyed the ozone layer, producing holes that would allow dangerous ultraviolet light to stream through. In the s, huge "ozone holes" started to appear over Antarctica, prompting many countries to unite and sign an international agreement called the Montreal Protocol, which rapidly phased out the use of CFCs. As a result, the ozone layer—though still damaged—is expected to recover by the end of the 21st century. As we discovered in the last section, air pollution means different problems at different scales—in other words, it's not one single problem but many different ones.
Solving a problem like passive smoking how one person's cigarette smoke can harm other people's health is very different to tackling a problem like global warming, though both involve air pollution and they do have some things in common both problems, for example, require us to think about how our behavior can affect other people in the short and long term and to act more considerately.
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Generally, air pollution is tackled by a mixture of technological solutions, laws and regulations, and changes in people's behavior. It's very easy to criticize power plants, factories, and vehicles that belch polluting gases into the atmosphere, but virtually all of us rely on these things—ultimately, we are the people polluting. Solving air pollution is also a challenge because many people have a big investment in the status quo carrying on with the world much as it is today.
For example, it's easier for car makers to keep on making gasoline engines than to develop electric cars or ones powered by fuel cells that produce less pollution.
Various Causes of Air pollution
The world has thousands of coal-fired power plants and hundreds of nuclear power stations and, again, it's easier to keep those going than to create an entirely new power system based on solar panels , wind turbines , and other forms of renewable energy though that is happening slowly.
Growing awareness of problems such as air pollution and global warming is slowly forcing a shift to cleaner technologies, but the world remains firmly locked in its old, polluting ways. Let's be optimistic, though. Just as technology has caused the problem of air pollution, so it can provide solutions. Cars with conventional gasoline engines are now routinely fitted with catalytic converters that remove some though not all of the pollutants from the exhaust gases. Power plants are fitted with electrostatic smoke precipitators that use static electricity to pull dirt and soot from the gases that drift up smokestacks; in time, it's likely that many older power plants will also be retro-fitted with carbon capture systems that trap carbon dioxide to help reduce global warming.
On a much smaller scale, environmentally friendly people who want to ventilate their homes without opening windows and wasting energy can install heat-recovery ventilation systems, which use the heat energy locked in outgoing waste air to warm fresh incoming air. Technologies like this can help us live smarter—to go about our lives in much the same way with far less impact on the planet. Photo: Pollution solution: an electrostatic smoke precipitator helps to prevent air pollution from this smokestack at the McNeil biomass power plant in Burlington, VT.
By itself, technology is as likely to harm the environment as to help it. That's why laws and regulations have been such an important part of tackling the problem of pollution. Many once-polluted cities now have relatively clean air and water, largely thanks to anti-pollution laws introduced during the midth century. In England, following the smog tragedy that killed thousands in the capital city of London, the government introduced its Clean Air Act of , which restricted how and where coal could be burned and where furnaces could be sited, and forced people to build smokestacks higher to disperse pollution.
The Pollution Prevention Act went even further, shifting the emphasis from cleaning up pollution to preventing it ever happening in the first place. National laws are of little help in tackling transboundary pollution when air pollution from one country affects neighboring countries or continents , but that doesn't mean the law is useless in such cases.
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The creation of the European Union now comprising around 30 different countries has led to many Europe-wide environmental acts, called directives. These force the member countries to introduce their own, broadly similar, national environmental laws that ultimately cover the entire European region. For example, the European Bathing Water Directive tried to enforce minimum standards of water quality for beaches and coastal areas across Europe to reduce pollution from sewage disposal, while the European Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control IPPC attempted to limit air and water pollution from industry.
Other successful international laws include the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution , which has helped to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants and, of course, the Montreal Protocol , which successfully brought countries together to target ozone depletion. Unfortunately, attempts to control global warming through international laws and agreements have so far proved less successful. Clean technologies can tackle dirty technologies, and laws can make polluters clean up their act—but none of this would happen without people being aware of pollution and its damaging effects.
Sometimes it takes horrific tragedies like the smog episode in London or the Chernobyl catastrophe to prompt action. Often, we pollute the environment without even realizing it: how many people know that taking a shower or ironing a shirt can release indoor air pollution from hot water that they immediately breathe in, for example? Helping people to understand the causes and effects of pollution and what they can do to tackle the issue is very important—that's why I'm writing these words now and probably why you're reading them.
Air pollution isn't someone else's problem: all of us help to cause it and we can all help to clean it up. Starting now! Photo: Buying organic food reduces the use of sprayed pesticides and other chemicals, so it helps to reduce air as well as water pollution.
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So now you know the problems, but what's the solution? Here are ten simple things you can do that will make a difference however small to the problem of air pollution.
Essay on Air Pollution: Causes, Effects and Control of Air Pollution
Top-ten kinds of air pollution Photo: Flying molecules—if you could see air pollution close up, this is what it would look like. In practice, about ten different substances cause most concern: Sulfur dioxide : Coal, petroleum, and other fuels are often impure and contain sulfur as well as organic carbon-based compounds.
When sulfur spelled "sulphur" in some countries burns with oxygen from the air, sulfur dioxide SO 2 is produced. Coal-fired power plants are the world's biggest source of sulfur-dioxide air pollution, which contributes to smog, acid rain, and health problems that include lung disease. Carbon monoxide : This highly dangerous gas forms when fuels have too little oxygen to burn completely. It spews out in car exhausts and it can also build up to dangerous levels inside your home if you have a poorly maintained gas boiler , stove, or fuel-burning appliance.
Always fit a carbon monoxide detector if you burn fuels indoors.
Top-ten kinds of air pollution
Carbon dioxide : This gas is central to everyday life and isn't normally considered a pollutant: we all produce it when we breathe out and plants such as crops and trees need to "breathe" it in to grow. However, carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas released by engines and power plants. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, it's been building up in Earth's atmosphere and contributing to the problem of global warming and climate change. Nitrogen oxides : Nitrogen dioxide NO 2 and nitrogen oxide NO are pollutants produced as an indirect result of combustion, when nitrogen and oxygen from the air react together.
Nitrogen oxide pollution comes from vehicle engines and power plants, and plays an important role in the formation of acid rain, ozone and smog. Nitrogen oxides are also "indirect greenhouse gases" they contribute to global warming by producing ozone, which is a greenhouse gas. Volatile organic compounds VOCs : These carbon-based organic chemicals evaporate easily at ordinary temperatures and pressures, so they readily become gases.
That's precisely why they're used as solvents in many different household chemicals such as paints , waxes, and varnishes. Unfortunately, they're also a form of air pollution: they're believed to have long-term chronic effects on people's health and they also play a role in the formation of ozone and smog.
Particulates : These are the sooty deposits in air pollution that blacken buildings and cause breathing difficulties. The smaller "finer" the particulates, the deeper they travel into our lungs and the more dangerous they are. In cities, most particulates come from traffic fumes. Ozone : Also called trioxygen, this is a type of oxygen gas whose molecules are made from three oxygen atoms joined together so it has the chemical formula O 3 , instead of just the two atoms in conventional oxygen O 2.