Friday, 4 November 2016

Impact of Air Pollution on Health and the Environment

Air pollution is an atmospheric condition that causes undesirable effects on people and on the environment. Gaseous pollutants include oxides of sulfur, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate pollutants include smoke and dust. The presence of aerosols, pollen grains and radioactive pollutants, which includes radon-222 and iodine-131, may cause air pollution. If pollutants are emitted directly from a point source, they are called primary pollutants. If pollutants are formed by an interaction of primary pollutants or with some natural constituents of the atmosphere like ozone or photochemical smog, they are called secondary pollutants. 

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Sources of Air Pollution

Volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and photochemical oxidations of terpenes are natural sources of air pollutants. Electrical power plants, factories, traffic emissions, fuel burning, and agriculture activities are forms of synthetic air pollutants. Vehicles used for transportation are another major source of air pollution; automobiles release gases such as carbon dioxide and other hydrocarbons. Heavy duty vehicles spew more nitrogen oxides (NOx) and suspended particulate matter (SPM). Radon gas is a form of indoor air pollution that is  responsible for health problems including lung cancer. Radon gas is emitted from building material like bricks, concrete, and tiles that are manufactured from soil containing radium. The incomplete combustion of fuels, such as coal, wood, and kerosene, can produce a toxic gas known as carbon monoxide. Coal upon burning produces sulfur dioxide, and fossil fuels upon burning produces black soot. Both sulfur dioxide and black soot are considered to be polluting agents.

Health Disorders Due to Air Pollution

Air pollution affects human health, plants, aquatic life, materials and the environment. The human respiratory system has a number of mechanisms for protection from air pollution, but years of exposure to air pollutants adversely affects the body’s resistance against these pollutants. Air pollution can cause cancer, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, loss of lung elasticity and shortness of breath. Sulfur dioxide causes bronchitis, carbon monoxide causes suffocation, and long exposure to carbon monoxide causes dizziness, unconsciousness and even death. Pollutants like benzene formaldehyde and polychlorinated biphenyls (PSBS) causes mutations and reproductive problems. The presence of many other hazardous materials like asbestos, mercury, arsenic and radioactive substances causes lung diseases and affects other vital organs like the kidney, liver, spleen and brain. Human health disorders due to air pollution or through any other sources of working environments are frequently inspected by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials to prevent serious incidents. The presence of minimum levels of each contaminant is important to take appropriate preventive measures for air pollution. Engineers preparing for the FE exam can refresh their memory on contaminant levels as per OSHA standards through a fundamentals of engineering exam review course.

Environmental Engineering Concerns Due to Air Pollution

Air pollution impacts plants by destroying chlorophyll and effecting photosynthesis, necrosis, and chlorosis. Peroxylacetyl nitrate (PAN) causes silvering of lower surface of leaves and suppressed growth. High acidity in fresh water lakes may harm aquatic life. Presences of sulfur dioxide and moisture results in the formation of acid that causes damage to metal parts of buildings, vehicles, bridges and railway tracks. It is the responsibility of environmental engineers to protect the environment by controlling air pollution. Engineering concepts of air pollution monitoring and controlling are topics that are discussed in undergraduate environmental engineering courses as well as in FE exam review courses. 

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