What is Air Pollution?

What is Air Pollution? How is it Caused? What is its Aftermath?

All of us have been introduced to the topic of air pollution during our school days. However, even after so much awareness, it is largely prevalent all across the world.
Air pollution can be defined as the addition of harmful chemicals, toxins, particulate matter, and other biological materials, which can damage the environment, and cause discomfort among living beings on the Earth's surface. There are many causes and repercussions of this dreaded condition, as most organisms survive because of the presence of air in the atmosphere. Among the three types of environmental pollution observed in nature, air pollution is the largest one, especially in urban areas like cities and towns.

Causes of Air Pollution?
  • It is mainly caused by air pollutants, which are the substances released in air, that are injurious or harmful to living beings.
  • These pollutants are either man-made or natural in origin, and they can be in the form of solids, liquid droplets, and most importantly, gases.
  • One of the major causes is carbon dioxide, which is one of the highest-emitted pollutants in nature. Living beings exhale this gas, and it is also released from other sources like oil and chemical industries, combustion of fossil fuels, and deforestation. These sources causes the contribution of about 40% or more of this pollutant to the environment.
  • Carbon monoxide is another harmful gas which is released because of fuel-burning appliances like fireplaces, gas stoves, automobiles, water heaters, wood stoves, etc.
  • Other chemicals and pollutants are released from industries by burning of fossil fuels, marine vessels, automobiles, aerosol sprays, nuclear weapons, and many other destructive activities.
  • Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are two most harmful air pollutants. Sulfur dioxide is released because of petroleum refineries, burning of fossil fuels, chemical and coal industries, etc. Nitrogen dioxide is usually emitted because of nuclear power plants, and other commercial industries. This gas is also a major causative agent of acid rains.
Effects on the Environment
  • Some of the biggest effects on the environment are acid rains, which include poisonous chemicals like sulfuric and nitric acid. They get mixed up in the water cycle, contaminate drinking water, damage buildings, kill aquatic life, and ruin vegetation.
  • Another serious effect is "smog", which is widely prevalent in cities. It is the combination of smoke and fog, which proves to be very harmful for living beings. It is caused due to automobile and industrial pollution, causing various respiratory diseases, fatigue, decreased visual acuity, etc.
  • Ozone depletion is yet another effect on the environment, and is one of the most anticipated dangers of the future. There have been discoveries of "holes" in the Ozone layer, due to the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from refrigerators, air conditioners, and aerosols. This causes a direct contact between the harmful ultra-violet rays and the Earth's surface, leading to crop damage and skin cancer.
  • Temperature changes, climate shifts, and global warming are the most recently observed effects on the environment.