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Air Pollution: Causes and Effects

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Updated: 30 November, 2023

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Air Pollution Essay: Hook Examples

  • The Silent Killer: Delve into the invisible threat that surrounds us every day, affecting our health, environment, and future generations – air pollution.
  • Gasping for Breath: Paint a vivid picture of individuals struggling to breathe in polluted cities, highlighting the urgency of addressing this pressing issue.
  • Nature’s S.O.S: Explore how wildlife and ecosystems send distress signals through the impact of air pollution, underscoring the interconnectedness of all living beings.
  • The Economic Toll: Uncover the hidden costs of air pollution on healthcare, productivity, and quality of life, revealing the far-reaching consequences of our actions.
  • Clean Air, Clear Future: Imagine a world where we embrace cleaner technologies and sustainable practices, offering a vision of hope and change in the fight against air pollution.

Works Cited

  • Agarwal, A., & Agarwal, S. (2020). Air Pollution: Sources, Effects, and Control. CRC Press.
  • Cohen, A. J., Brauer, M., Burnett, R., Anderson, H. R., Frostad, J., Estep, K., … & Balakrishnan, K. (2017). Estimates and 25-year trends of the global burden of disease attributable to ambient air pollution: an analysis of data from the Global Burden of Diseases Study 2015. The Lancet, 389(10082), 1907-1918.
  • Guttikunda, S. K., & Gurjar, B. R. (2012). Role of meteorology in seasonality of air pollution in megacity Delhi, India. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 184(5), 3199-3211.
  • He, G., Ying, Q., Ma, Y., Cheng, L., Wang, Y., & Liu, Y. (2016). Health risks of air pollution in China: a special focus on particulate matter. Environmental Pollution, 211, 17-30.
  • Heyder, J., Gebhart, J., Rudolf, G., & Schiller, C. (1986). St deposition in the human respiratory tract as determined by cyclone techniques. Environmental Health Perspectives, 66, 149-159.
  • Khan, M. N., Islam, M. M., Siddiqui, M. N., & Islam, M. S. (2019). Sources and Impact of Air Pollution on Human Health. In Sustainable Environment and Transportation (pp. 307-334). Springer.
  • Kumar, P., Kumar, A., & Goyal, P. (2020). Air Pollution: Measurement, Modelling and Mitigation. CRC Press.
  • Lelieveld, J., Evans, J. S., Fnais, M., Giannadaki, D., & Pozzer, A. (2015). The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale. Nature, 525(7569), 367-371.

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What is air pollution?

What causes air pollution, effects of air pollution, air pollution in the united states, air pollution and environmental justice, controlling air pollution, how to help reduce air pollution, how to protect your health.

Air pollution  refers to the release of pollutants into the air—pollutants that are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole. According to the  World Health Organization (WHO) , each year, indoor and outdoor air pollution is responsible for nearly seven million deaths around the globe. Ninety-nine percent of human beings currently breathe air that exceeds the WHO’s guideline limits for pollutants, with those living in low- and middle-income countries suffering the most. In the United States, the  Clean Air Act , established in 1970, authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to safeguard public health by regulating the emissions of these harmful air pollutants.

“Most air pollution comes from energy use and production,” says  John Walke , director of the Clean Air team at NRDC. Driving a car on gasoline, heating a home with oil, running a power plant on  fracked gas : In each case, a fossil fuel is burned and harmful chemicals and gases are released into the air.

“We’ve made progress over the last 50 years in improving air quality in the United States, thanks to the Clean Air Act. But climate change will make it harder in the future to meet pollution standards, which are designed to  protect health ,” says Walke.

Air pollution is now the world’s fourth-largest risk factor for early death. According to the 2020  State of Global Air  report —which summarizes the latest scientific understanding of air pollution around the world—4.5 million deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution exposures in 2019, and another 2.2 million deaths were caused by indoor air pollution. The world’s most populous countries, China and India, continue to bear the highest burdens of disease.

“Despite improvements in reducing global average mortality rates from air pollution, this report also serves as a sobering reminder that the climate crisis threatens to worsen air pollution problems significantly,” explains  Vijay Limaye , senior scientist in NRDC’s Science Office. Smog, for instance, is intensified by increased heat, forming when the weather is warmer and there’s more ultraviolet radiation. In addition, climate change increases the production of allergenic air pollutants, including mold (thanks to damp conditions caused by extreme weather and increased flooding) and pollen (due to a longer pollen season). “Climate change–fueled droughts and dry conditions are also setting the stage for dangerous wildfires,” adds Limaye. “ Wildfire smoke can linger for days and pollute the air with particulate matter hundreds of miles downwind.”

The effects of air pollution on the human body vary, depending on the type of pollutant, the length and level of exposure, and other factors, including a person’s individual health risks and the cumulative impacts of multiple pollutants or stressors.

Smog and soot

These are the two most prevalent types of air pollution. Smog (sometimes referred to as ground-level ozone) occurs when emissions from combusting fossil fuels react with sunlight. Soot—a type of  particulate matter —is made up of tiny particles of chemicals, soil, smoke, dust, or allergens that are carried in the air. The sources of smog and soot are similar. “Both come from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines, generally anything that combusts fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, or natural gas,” Walke says.

Smog can irritate the eyes and throat and also damage the lungs, especially those of children, senior citizens, and people who work or exercise outdoors. It’s even worse for people who have asthma or allergies; these extra pollutants can intensify their symptoms and trigger asthma attacks. The tiniest airborne particles in soot are especially dangerous because they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and worsen bronchitis, lead to heart attacks, and even hasten death. In  2020, a report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that COVID-19 mortality rates were higher in areas with more particulate matter pollution than in areas with even slightly less, showing a correlation between the virus’s deadliness and long-term exposure to air pollution. 

These findings also illuminate an important  environmental justice issue . Because highways and polluting facilities have historically been sited in or next to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, the negative effects of this pollution have been  disproportionately experienced by the people who live in these communities.

Hazardous air pollutants

A number of air pollutants pose severe health risks and can sometimes be fatal, even in small amounts. Almost 200 of them are regulated by law; some of the most common are mercury,  lead , dioxins, and benzene. “These are also most often emitted during gas or coal combustion, incineration, or—in the case of benzene—found in gasoline,” Walke says. Benzene, classified as a carcinogen by the EPA, can cause eye, skin, and lung irritation in the short term and blood disorders in the long term. Dioxins, more typically found in food but also present in small amounts in the air, is another carcinogen that can affect the liver in the short term and harm the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, as well as reproductive functions.  Mercury  attacks the central nervous system. In large amounts, lead can damage children’s brains and kidneys, and even minimal exposure can affect children’s IQ and ability to learn.

Another category of toxic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are by-products of traffic exhaust and wildfire smoke. In large amounts, they have been linked to eye and lung irritation, blood and liver issues, and even cancer.  In one study , the children of mothers exposed to PAHs during pregnancy showed slower brain-processing speeds and more pronounced symptoms of ADHD.

Greenhouse gases

While these climate pollutants don’t have the direct or immediate impacts on the human body associated with other air pollutants, like smog or hazardous chemicals, they are still harmful to our health. By trapping the earth’s heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases lead to warmer temperatures, which in turn lead to the hallmarks of climate change: rising sea levels, more extreme weather, heat-related deaths, and the increased transmission of infectious diseases. In 2021, carbon dioxide accounted for roughly 79 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and methane made up more than 11 percent. “Carbon dioxide comes from combusting fossil fuels, and methane comes from natural and industrial sources, including large amounts that are released during oil and gas drilling,” Walke says. “We emit far larger amounts of carbon dioxide, but methane is significantly more potent, so it’s also very destructive.” 

Another class of greenhouse gases,  hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) , are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in their ability to trap heat. In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed the Kigali Agreement to reduce the use of these chemicals—which are found in air conditioners and refrigerators—and develop greener alternatives over time. (The United States officially signed onto the  Kigali Agreement in 2022.)

Pollen and mold

Mold and allergens from trees, weeds, and grass are also carried in the air, are exacerbated by climate change, and can be hazardous to health. Though they aren’t regulated, they can be considered a form of air pollution. “When homes, schools, or businesses get water damage, mold can grow and produce allergenic airborne pollutants,” says Kim Knowlton, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University and a former NRDC scientist. “ Mold exposure can precipitate asthma attacks  or an allergic response, and some molds can even produce toxins that would be dangerous for anyone to inhale.”

Pollen allergies are worsening  because of climate change . “Lab and field studies are showing that pollen-producing plants—especially ragweed—grow larger and produce more pollen when you increase the amount of carbon dioxide that they grow in,” Knowlton says. “Climate change also extends the pollen production season, and some studies are beginning to suggest that ragweed pollen itself might be becoming a more potent allergen.” If so, more people will suffer runny noses, fevers, itchy eyes, and other symptoms. “And for people with allergies and asthma, pollen peaks can precipitate asthma attacks, which are far more serious and can be life-threatening.”

essay on air pollution and its impact

More than one in three U.S. residents—120 million people—live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the  2023  State of the Air  report by the American Lung Association (ALA). Since the annual report was first published, in 2000, its findings have shown how the Clean Air Act has been able to reduce harmful emissions from transportation, power plants, and manufacturing.

Recent findings, however, reflect how climate change–fueled wildfires and extreme heat are adding to the challenges of protecting public health. The latest report—which focuses on ozone, year-round particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution—also finds that people of color are 61 percent more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade in at least one of those categories, and three times more likely to live in a county that fails in all three.

In rankings for each of the three pollution categories covered by the ALA report, California cities occupy the top three slots (i.e., were highest in pollution), despite progress that the Golden State has made in reducing air pollution emissions in the past half century. At the other end of the spectrum, these cities consistently rank among the country’s best for air quality: Burlington, Vermont; Honolulu; and Wilmington, North Carolina. 

No one wants to live next door to an incinerator, oil refinery, port, toxic waste dump, or other polluting site. Yet millions of people around the world do, and this puts them at a much higher risk for respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, neurological damage, cancer, and death. In the United States, people of color are 1.5 times more likely than whites to live in areas with poor air quality, according to the ALA.

Historically, racist zoning policies and discriminatory lending practices known as  redlining  have combined to keep polluting industries and car-choked highways away from white neighborhoods and have turned communities of color—especially low-income and working-class communities of color—into sacrifice zones, where residents are forced to breathe dirty air and suffer the many health problems associated with it. In addition to the increased health risks that come from living in such places, the polluted air can economically harm residents in the form of missed workdays and higher medical costs.

Environmental racism isn't limited to cities and industrial areas. Outdoor laborers, including the estimated three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States, are among the most vulnerable to air pollution—and they’re also among the least equipped, politically, to pressure employers and lawmakers to affirm their right to breathe clean air.

Recently,  cumulative impact mapping , which uses data on environmental conditions and demographics, has been able to show how some communities are overburdened with layers of issues, like high levels of poverty, unemployment, and pollution. Tools like the  Environmental Justice Screening Method  and the EPA’s  EJScreen  provide evidence of what many environmental justice communities have been explaining for decades: that we need land use and public health reforms to ensure that vulnerable areas are not overburdened and that the people who need resources the most are receiving them.

In the United States, the  Clean Air Act  has been a crucial tool for reducing air pollution since its passage in 1970, although fossil fuel interests aided by industry-friendly lawmakers have frequently attempted to  weaken its many protections. Ensuring that this bedrock environmental law remains intact and properly enforced will always be key to maintaining and improving our air quality.

But the best, most effective way to control air pollution is to speed up our transition to cleaner fuels and industrial processes. By switching over to renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar power), maximizing fuel efficiency in our vehicles, and replacing more and more of our gasoline-powered cars and trucks with electric versions, we'll be limiting air pollution at its source while also curbing the global warming that heightens so many of its worst health impacts.

And what about the economic costs of controlling air pollution? According to a report on the Clean Air Act commissioned by NRDC, the annual  benefits of cleaner air  are up to 32 times greater than the cost of clean air regulations. Those benefits include up to 370,000 avoided premature deaths, 189,000 fewer hospital admissions for cardiac and respiratory illnesses, and net economic benefits of up to $3.8 trillion for the U.S. economy every year.

“The less gasoline we burn, the better we’re doing to reduce air pollution and the harmful effects of climate change,” Walke explains. “Make good choices about transportation. When you can, ride a bike, walk, or take public transportation. For driving, choose a car that gets better miles per gallon of gas or  buy an electric car .” You can also investigate your power provider options—you may be able to request that your electricity be supplied by wind or solar. Buying your food locally cuts down on the fossil fuels burned in trucking or flying food in from across the world. And most important: “Support leaders who push for clean air and water and responsible steps on climate change,” Walke says.

  • “When you see in the news or hear on the weather report that pollution levels are high, it may be useful to limit the time when children go outside or you go for a jog,” Walke says. Generally, ozone levels tend to be lower in the morning.
  • If you exercise outside, stay as far as you can from heavily trafficked roads. Then shower and wash your clothes to remove fine particles.
  • The air may look clear, but that doesn’t mean it’s pollution free. Utilize tools like the EPA’s air pollution monitor,  AirNow , to get the latest conditions. If the air quality is bad, stay inside with the windows closed.
  • If you live or work in an area that’s prone to wildfires,  stay away from the harmful smoke  as much as you’re able. Consider keeping a small stock of masks to wear when conditions are poor. The most ideal masks for smoke particles will be labelled “NIOSH” (which stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and have either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.
  • If you’re using an air conditioner while outdoor pollution conditions are bad, use the recirculating setting to limit the amount of polluted air that gets inside. 

This story was originally published on November 1, 2016, and has been updated with new information and links.

This NRDC.org story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.

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  • Air Pollution Essay


Essay on Air Pollution

Environmental changes are caused by the natural or artificial content of harmful pollutants and can cause instability, disturbance, or adverse effects on the ecosystem. Earth and its environment pose a more serious threat due to the increasing pollution of air, water, and soil. Environmental damage is caused by improper resource management or careless human activities. Therefore, any activity that violates the original nature of the environment and leads to degradation is called pollution. We need to understand the origin of these pollutants and find ways to control pollution. This can also be done by raising awareness of the effects of pollutants.

Air pollution is any physical, chemical, or biological change in the air. A certain percentage of the gas is present in the atmosphere. Increasing or decreasing the composition of these gasses is detrimental to survival. This imbalance in gas composition causes an increase in global temperature which is called global warming.

Introduction to air pollution 

The Earth and its environment are facing a serious threat by the increasing pollution of the air, water, and soil—the vital life support systems of the Earth. The damage to the environment is caused by improper management of resources or by careless human activity. Hence any activity that violates the original character of nature and leads to its degradation is called pollution. We need to understand the sources of these pollutants and find ways to control pollution. This can be also done by making people aware of the effects of pollutants. 

Air with 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, and 1% of all other gasses support life on Earth. Various processes take place to sustain the regular percentage of gasses and their composition in general. 

Atmospheric pollution can have natural sources, for example, volcanic eruptions. The gaseous by-products of man-made processes such as energy production, waste incineration, transport, deforestation and agriculture, are the major air pollutants.

Although air is made up of mostly Oxygen and Nitrogen, mankind, through pollution, has increased the levels of many trace gasses, and in some cases, released completely new gasses to the atmosphere. 

Air pollution can result in poor air quality, both in cities and in the countryside. Some air pollutants make people sick, causing breathing problems and increasing the likelihood of cancer. 

Some air pollutants are harmful to plants, animals, and the ecosystems in which they live. Statues, monuments, and buildings are being corroded by the air pollutants in the form of acid rain. It also damages crops and forests, and makes lakes and streams unsuitable for fish and other plant and animal life. 

Air pollution created by man-made resources is also changing the Earth’s atmosphere. It is causing the depletion of the ozone layer and letting in more harmful radiation from the Sun. The greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere prevents heat from escaping back into space and leads to a rise in global average temperatures. Global warming affects the average sea-level and increases the spread of tropical diseases.

Air pollution occurs when large amounts of gas and tiny particles are released into the air and the ecological balance is disturbed. Each year millions of tons of gasses and particulate matter are emitted into the air. 

Primary air pollutants are pollutants, which are directly released into the air. They are called SPM, i.e., Suspended Particulate Matter. For example, smoke, dust, ash, sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, and radioactive compounds, etc.

Secondary Pollutants are pollutants, which are formed due to chemical interactions between the atmospheric components and primary pollutants. For example, Smog (i.e. Smoke and fog), ozone, etc.

Major gaseous air pollutants include Carbon Dioxide, Hydrogen Sulfide, Sulfur Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxide, etc.

Natural sources are volcanic eruptions, forest fires, dust storms, etc. 

Man-made sources include gasses released from the automobiles, industries, burning of garbage and bricks kilns, etc.

Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health

Air pollution has adverse effects on human health. 

Breathing polluted air puts you at higher risk of asthma.

When exposed to ground ozone for 6 to 7 hours, people suffer from respiratory inflammation.

Damages the immune system, endocrine, and reproductive systems.

A high level of air pollution has been associated with higher incidents of heart problems.

The toxic chemicals released into the air are affecting the flora and fauna immensely.

Preventive Measures to Reduce Air Pollution

We can prevent pollution by utilizing raw materials, water energy, and other resources more efficiently. When less harmful substances are substituted for hazardous ones, and when toxic substances are eliminated from the production process, human health can be protected and economic wellbeing can be strengthened. 

There are several measures that can be adopted by people to reduce pollution and to save the environment.


Promotion of public transport.

No smoking zone.

Restricted use of fossil fuels.

Saving energy.

Encouraging organic farming.

The government has put restrictions on the amount of fossil fuels that can be used as well as restrictions on how much carbon dioxide and other pollutants can be emitted. Although the government is attempting to save our environment from these harmful gasses, it is not sufficient. We as a society need to keep the environment clean by controlling the pollution of air.


FAQs on Air Pollution Essay

1. State the Causes of Air Pollution ?

The following are the causes of air pollution.

Vehicular pollution consisting of Carbon Monoxide causes pollution.

Emission of Nitrogen oxide by a large number of supersonic transport airplanes causes deterioration of the Ozone layer and also causes serious damage to the flora and fauna.

The release of Chlorofluorocarbons into the Stratosphere causes depletion of Ozone, which is a serious concern to animals, microscopic, and aquatic organisms.

Burning garbage causes smoke, which pollutes the atmosphere. This smoke contains harmful gases such as Carbon dioxide and Nitrogen oxides.

In India, brick kilns are used for many purposes and coal is used to burn the bricks. They give out huge quantities of Carbon dioxide and particulate matter such as smoke, dust that are very harmful to people working there and the areas surrounding it. 

Many cleansing agents release poisonous gases such as Ammonia and Chlorine into the atmosphere. 

Radioactive elements emit harmful rays into the air.

Decomposed animals and plants emit Methane and Ammonia gas into the air.

2. What Does Global Warming Mean?

Global warming is the gradual rising average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere due to the concentration of methane in certain toxic gasses such as carbon dioxide. This has a major impact on the world climate. The world is warming. The land and the sea are now warmer than they were at the beginning and temperatures are still rising. This rise in temperature is, in short, global warming. This temperature rise is man-made. The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere which capture solar heat and raise surface and air temperatures.

3. Name the Alternative Modes of Transport. In What Way Does it Help to Reduce Air Pollution?

Public transport could be an alternative mode of transport. Public transport like trains, buses and trams, can relieve traffic congestion and reduce air pollution from road transport. The use of public transport must be encouraged in order to develop a sustainable transport policy.

4. Mention other means of transportation! How can I help reduce air pollution?

Public transportation can be another mode of transportation. Public transport such as trains, buses and trams can reduce traffic congestion and reduce air pollution from road transport. The use of public transport and to develop sustainable transport policies should be encouraged. While one passenger vehicle has the convenience factor, other modes of transportation reduce travel costs, spend less time, reduce stress, improve health, and reduce energy consumption and parking. Other trips for work include walking/cycling, public transport, hybrid travel and transport.

5. What are the effects of pollution?

Excessive air pollution can increase the risk of heart attack, wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Air pollution can also cause heart problems, asthma, and other lung problems. Due to the emission of greenhouse gases, the composition of the air in the air is disturbed. This causes an increase in global temperature. The damaging ozone layer due to air pollution does not prevent harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun, which cause skin and eye problems in individuals. Air pollution has caused a number of respiratory and heart diseases among people. The incidence of lung cancer has increased in recent decades. Children living in contaminated areas are more likely to develop pneumonia and asthma. Many people die every year due to the direct or indirect effects of air pollution. When burning fossil fuels, harmful gases such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides are released into the air. Water droplets combine with these pollutants and become acidic and fall as acid rain, which harms human, animal and plant life.

6. What is the solution to air pollution?

Production of renewable fuels and clean energy. The basic solution to air pollution is to get away from fossil fuels and replace them with other energies such as solar, wind and geothermal. The government limits the amount of fossil fuel that can be used and how much carbon dioxide and other pollutants it can emit. While the government is trying to save our environment from this harmful gas, it is not enough. We as a society need to keep the environment clean by controlling air pollution. To more in detail about air pollution and its causes. To learn more about air pollution and its impact on the environment, visit the Vedantu website.

REVIEW article

Environmental and health impacts of air pollution: a review.

\nIoannis Manisalidis,

  • 1 Delphis S.A., Kifisia, Greece
  • 2 Laboratory of Hygiene and Environmental Protection, Faculty of Medicine, Democritus University of Thrace, Alexandroupolis, Greece
  • 3 Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), Service de Médicine Interne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 4 School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom

One of our era's greatest scourges is air pollution, on account not only of its impact on climate change but also its impact on public and individual health due to increasing morbidity and mortality. There are many pollutants that are major factors in disease in humans. Among them, Particulate Matter (PM), particles of variable but very small diameter, penetrate the respiratory system via inhalation, causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, reproductive and central nervous system dysfunctions, and cancer. Despite the fact that ozone in the stratosphere plays a protective role against ultraviolet irradiation, it is harmful when in high concentration at ground level, also affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular system. Furthermore, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), dioxins, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are all considered air pollutants that are harmful to humans. Carbon monoxide can even provoke direct poisoning when breathed in at high levels. Heavy metals such as lead, when absorbed into the human body, can lead to direct poisoning or chronic intoxication, depending on exposure. Diseases occurring from the aforementioned substances include principally respiratory problems such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, bronchiolitis, and also lung cancer, cardiovascular events, central nervous system dysfunctions, and cutaneous diseases. Last but not least, climate change resulting from environmental pollution affects the geographical distribution of many infectious diseases, as do natural disasters. The only way to tackle this problem is through public awareness coupled with a multidisciplinary approach by scientific experts; national and international organizations must address the emergence of this threat and propose sustainable solutions.

Approach to the Problem

The interactions between humans and their physical surroundings have been extensively studied, as multiple human activities influence the environment. The environment is a coupling of the biotic (living organisms and microorganisms) and the abiotic (hydrosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere).

Pollution is defined as the introduction into the environment of substances harmful to humans and other living organisms. Pollutants are harmful solids, liquids, or gases produced in higher than usual concentrations that reduce the quality of our environment.

Human activities have an adverse effect on the environment by polluting the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the soil in which plants grow. Although the industrial revolution was a great success in terms of technology, society, and the provision of multiple services, it also introduced the production of huge quantities of pollutants emitted into the air that are harmful to human health. Without any doubt, the global environmental pollution is considered an international public health issue with multiple facets. Social, economic, and legislative concerns and lifestyle habits are related to this major problem. Clearly, urbanization and industrialization are reaching unprecedented and upsetting proportions worldwide in our era. Anthropogenic air pollution is one of the biggest public health hazards worldwide, given that it accounts for about 9 million deaths per year ( 1 ).

Without a doubt, all of the aforementioned are closely associated with climate change, and in the event of danger, the consequences can be severe for mankind ( 2 ). Climate changes and the effects of global planetary warming seriously affect multiple ecosystems, causing problems such as food safety issues, ice and iceberg melting, animal extinction, and damage to plants ( 3 , 4 ).

Air pollution has various health effects. The health of susceptible and sensitive individuals can be impacted even on low air pollution days. Short-term exposure to air pollutants is closely related to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, asthma, respiratory disease, and high rates of hospitalization (a measurement of morbidity).

The long-term effects associated with air pollution are chronic asthma, pulmonary insufficiency, cardiovascular diseases, and cardiovascular mortality. According to a Swedish cohort study, diabetes seems to be induced after long-term air pollution exposure ( 5 ). Moreover, air pollution seems to have various malign health effects in early human life, such as respiratory, cardiovascular, mental, and perinatal disorders ( 3 ), leading to infant mortality or chronic disease in adult age ( 6 ).

National reports have mentioned the increased risk of morbidity and mortality ( 1 ). These studies were conducted in many places around the world and show a correlation between daily ranges of particulate matter (PM) concentration and daily mortality. Climate shifts and global planetary warming ( 3 ) could aggravate the situation. Besides, increased hospitalization (an index of morbidity) has been registered among the elderly and susceptible individuals for specific reasons. Fine and ultrafine particulate matter seems to be associated with more serious illnesses ( 6 ), as it can invade the deepest parts of the airways and more easily reach the bloodstream.

Air pollution mainly affects those living in large urban areas, where road emissions contribute the most to the degradation of air quality. There is also a danger of industrial accidents, where the spread of a toxic fog can be fatal to the populations of the surrounding areas. The dispersion of pollutants is determined by many parameters, most notably atmospheric stability and wind ( 6 ).

In developing countries ( 7 ), the problem is more serious due to overpopulation and uncontrolled urbanization along with the development of industrialization. This leads to poor air quality, especially in countries with social disparities and a lack of information on sustainable management of the environment. The use of fuels such as wood fuel or solid fuel for domestic needs due to low incomes exposes people to bad-quality, polluted air at home. It is of note that three billion people around the world are using the above sources of energy for their daily heating and cooking needs ( 8 ). In developing countries, the women of the household seem to carry the highest risk for disease development due to their longer duration exposure to the indoor air pollution ( 8 , 9 ). Due to its fast industrial development and overpopulation, China is one of the Asian countries confronting serious air pollution problems ( 10 , 11 ). The lung cancer mortality observed in China is associated with fine particles ( 12 ). As stated already, long-term exposure is associated with deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system ( 3 , 5 ). However, it is interesting to note that cardiovascular diseases have mostly been observed in developed and high-income countries rather than in the developing low-income countries exposed highly to air pollution ( 13 ). Extreme air pollution is recorded in India, where the air quality reaches hazardous levels. New Delhi is one of the more polluted cities in India. Flights in and out of New Delhi International Airport are often canceled due to the reduced visibility associated with air pollution. Pollution is occurring both in urban and rural areas in India due to the fast industrialization, urbanization, and rise in use of motorcycle transportation. Nevertheless, biomass combustion associated with heating and cooking needs and practices is a major source of household air pollution in India and in Nepal ( 14 , 15 ). There is spatial heterogeneity in India, as areas with diverse climatological conditions and population and education levels generate different indoor air qualities, with higher PM 2.5 observed in North Indian states (557–601 μg/m 3 ) compared to the Southern States (183–214 μg/m 3 ) ( 16 , 17 ). The cold climate of the North Indian areas may be the main reason for this, as longer periods at home and more heating are necessary compared to in the tropical climate of Southern India. Household air pollution in India is associated with major health effects, especially in women and young children, who stay indoors for longer periods. Chronic obstructive respiratory disease (CORD) and lung cancer are mostly observed in women, while acute lower respiratory disease is seen in young children under 5 years of age ( 18 ).

Accumulation of air pollution, especially sulfur dioxide and smoke, reaching 1,500 mg/m3, resulted in an increase in the number of deaths (4,000 deaths) in December 1952 in London and in 1963 in New York City (400 deaths) ( 19 ). An association of pollution with mortality was reported on the basis of monitoring of outdoor pollution in six US metropolitan cities ( 20 ). In every case, it seems that mortality was closely related to the levels of fine, inhalable, and sulfate particles more than with the levels of total particulate pollution, aerosol acidity, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen dioxide ( 20 ).

Furthermore, extremely high levels of pollution are reported in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, followed by Milan, Ankara, Melbourne, Tokyo, and Moscow ( 19 ).

Based on the magnitude of the public health impact, it is certain that different kinds of interventions should be taken into account. Success and effectiveness in controlling air pollution, specifically at the local level, have been reported. Adequate technological means are applied considering the source and the nature of the emission as well as its impact on health and the environment. The importance of point sources and non-point sources of air pollution control is reported by Schwela and Köth-Jahr ( 21 ). Without a doubt, a detailed emission inventory must record all sources in a given area. Beyond considering the above sources and their nature, topography and meteorology should also be considered, as stated previously. Assessment of the control policies and methods is often extrapolated from the local to the regional and then to the global scale. Air pollution may be dispersed and transported from one region to another area located far away. Air pollution management means the reduction to acceptable levels or possible elimination of air pollutants whose presence in the air affects our health or the environmental ecosystem. Private and governmental entities and authorities implement actions to ensure the air quality ( 22 ). Air quality standards and guidelines were adopted for the different pollutants by the WHO and EPA as a tool for the management of air quality ( 1 , 23 ). These standards have to be compared to the emissions inventory standards by causal analysis and dispersion modeling in order to reveal the problematic areas ( 24 ). Inventories are generally based on a combination of direct measurements and emissions modeling ( 24 ).

As an example, we state here the control measures at the source through the use of catalytic converters in cars. These are devices that turn the pollutants and toxic gases produced from combustion engines into less-toxic pollutants by catalysis through redox reactions ( 25 ). In Greece, the use of private cars was restricted by tracking their license plates in order to reduce traffic congestion during rush hour ( 25 ).

Concerning industrial emissions, collectors and closed systems can keep the air pollution to the minimal standards imposed by legislation ( 26 ).

Current strategies to improve air quality require an estimation of the economic value of the benefits gained from proposed programs. These proposed programs by public authorities, and directives are issued with guidelines to be respected.

In Europe, air quality limit values AQLVs (Air Quality Limit Values) are issued for setting off planning claims ( 27 ). In the USA, the NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality Standards) establish the national air quality limit values ( 27 ). While both standards and directives are based on different mechanisms, significant success has been achieved in the reduction of overall emissions and associated health and environmental effects ( 27 ). The European Directive identifies geographical areas of risk exposure as monitoring/assessment zones to record the emission sources and levels of air pollution ( 27 ), whereas the USA establishes global geographical air quality criteria according to the severity of their air quality problem and records all sources of the pollutants and their precursors ( 27 ).

In this vein, funds have been financing, directly or indirectly, projects related to air quality along with the technical infrastructure to maintain good air quality. These plans focus on an inventory of databases from air quality environmental planning awareness campaigns. Moreover, pollution measures of air emissions may be taken for vehicles, machines, and industries in urban areas.

Technological innovation can only be successful if it is able to meet the needs of society. In this sense, technology must reflect the decision-making practices and procedures of those involved in risk assessment and evaluation and act as a facilitator in providing information and assessments to enable decision makers to make the best decisions possible. Summarizing the aforementioned in order to design an effective air quality control strategy, several aspects must be considered: environmental factors and ambient air quality conditions, engineering factors and air pollutant characteristics, and finally, economic operating costs for technological improvement and administrative and legal costs. Considering the economic factor, competitiveness through neoliberal concepts is offering a solution to environmental problems ( 22 ).

The development of environmental governance, along with technological progress, has initiated the deployment of a dialogue. Environmental politics has created objections and points of opposition between different political parties, scientists, media, and governmental and non-governmental organizations ( 22 ). Radical environmental activism actions and movements have been created ( 22 ). The rise of the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are many times examined as to whether and in which way they have influenced means of communication and social movements such as activism ( 28 ). Since the 1990s, the term “digital activism” has been used increasingly and in many different disciplines ( 29 ). Nowadays, multiple digital technologies can be used to produce a digital activism outcome on environmental issues. More specifically, devices with online capabilities such as computers or mobile phones are being used as a way to pursue change in political and social affairs ( 30 ).

In the present paper, we focus on the sources of environmental pollution in relation to public health and propose some solutions and interventions that may be of interest to environmental legislators and decision makers.

Sources of Exposure

It is known that the majority of environmental pollutants are emitted through large-scale human activities such as the use of industrial machinery, power-producing stations, combustion engines, and cars. Because these activities are performed at such a large scale, they are by far the major contributors to air pollution, with cars estimated to be responsible for approximately 80% of today's pollution ( 31 ). Some other human activities are also influencing our environment to a lesser extent, such as field cultivation techniques, gas stations, fuel tanks heaters, and cleaning procedures ( 32 ), as well as several natural sources, such as volcanic and soil eruptions and forest fires.

The classification of air pollutants is based mainly on the sources producing pollution. Therefore, it is worth mentioning the four main sources, following the classification system: Major sources, Area sources, Mobile sources, and Natural sources.

Major sources include the emission of pollutants from power stations, refineries, and petrochemicals, the chemical and fertilizer industries, metallurgical and other industrial plants, and, finally, municipal incineration.

Indoor area sources include domestic cleaning activities, dry cleaners, printing shops, and petrol stations.

Mobile sources include automobiles, cars, railways, airways, and other types of vehicles.

Finally, natural sources include, as stated previously, physical disasters ( 33 ) such as forest fire, volcanic erosion, dust storms, and agricultural burning.

However, many classification systems have been proposed. Another type of classification is a grouping according to the recipient of the pollution, as follows:

Air pollution is determined as the presence of pollutants in the air in large quantities for long periods. Air pollutants are dispersed particles, hydrocarbons, CO, CO 2 , NO, NO 2 , SO 3 , etc.

Water pollution is organic and inorganic charge and biological charge ( 10 ) at high levels that affect the water quality ( 34 , 35 ).

Soil pollution occurs through the release of chemicals or the disposal of wastes, such as heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and pesticides.

Air pollution can influence the quality of soil and water bodies by polluting precipitation, falling into water and soil environments ( 34 , 36 ). Notably, the chemistry of the soil can be amended due to acid precipitation by affecting plants, cultures, and water quality ( 37 ). Moreover, movement of heavy metals is favored by soil acidity, and metals are so then moving into the watery environment. It is known that heavy metals such as aluminum are noxious to wildlife and fishes. Soil quality seems to be of importance, as soils with low calcium carbonate levels are at increased jeopardy from acid rain. Over and above rain, snow and particulate matter drip into watery ' bodies ( 36 , 38 ).

Lastly, pollution is classified following type of origin:

Radioactive and nuclear pollution , releasing radioactive and nuclear pollutants into water, air, and soil during nuclear explosions and accidents, from nuclear weapons, and through handling or disposal of radioactive sewage.

Radioactive materials can contaminate surface water bodies and, being noxious to the environment, plants, animals, and humans. It is known that several radioactive substances such as radium and uranium concentrate in the bones and can cause cancers ( 38 , 39 ).

Noise pollution is produced by machines, vehicles, traffic noises, and musical installations that are harmful to our hearing.

The World Health Organization introduced the term DALYs. The DALYs for a disease or health condition is defined as the sum of the Years of Life Lost (YLL) due to premature mortality in the population and the Years Lost due to Disability (YLD) for people living with the health condition or its consequences ( 39 ). In Europe, air pollution is the main cause of disability-adjusted life years lost (DALYs), followed by noise pollution. The potential relationships of noise and air pollution with health have been studied ( 40 ). The study found that DALYs related to noise were more important than those related to air pollution, as the effects of environmental noise on cardiovascular disease were independent of air pollution ( 40 ). Environmental noise should be counted as an independent public health risk ( 40 ).

Environmental pollution occurs when changes in the physical, chemical, or biological constituents of the environment (air masses, temperature, climate, etc.) are produced.

Pollutants harm our environment either by increasing levels above normal or by introducing harmful toxic substances. Primary pollutants are directly produced from the above sources, and secondary pollutants are emitted as by-products of the primary ones. Pollutants can be biodegradable or non-biodegradable and of natural origin or anthropogenic, as stated previously. Moreover, their origin can be a unique source (point-source) or dispersed sources.

Pollutants have differences in physical and chemical properties, explaining the discrepancy in their capacity for producing toxic effects. As an example, we state here that aerosol compounds ( 41 – 43 ) have a greater toxicity than gaseous compounds due to their tiny size (solid or liquid) in the atmosphere; they have a greater penetration capacity. Gaseous compounds are eliminated more easily by our respiratory system ( 41 ). These particles are able to damage lungs and can even enter the bloodstream ( 41 ), leading to the premature deaths of millions of people yearly. Moreover, the aerosol acidity ([H+]) seems to considerably enhance the production of secondary organic aerosols (SOA), but this last aspect is not supported by other scientific teams ( 38 ).

Climate and Pollution

Air pollution and climate change are closely related. Climate is the other side of the same coin that reduces the quality of our Earth ( 44 ). Pollutants such as black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and aerosols affect the amount of incoming sunlight. As a result, the temperature of the Earth is increasing, resulting in the melting of ice, icebergs, and glaciers.

In this vein, climatic changes will affect the incidence and prevalence of both residual and imported infections in Europe. Climate and weather affect the duration, timing, and intensity of outbreaks strongly and change the map of infectious diseases in the globe ( 45 ). Mosquito-transmitted parasitic or viral diseases are extremely climate-sensitive, as warming firstly shortens the pathogen incubation period and secondly shifts the geographic map of the vector. Similarly, water-warming following climate changes leads to a high incidence of waterborne infections. Recently, in Europe, eradicated diseases seem to be emerging due to the migration of population, for example, cholera, poliomyelitis, tick-borne encephalitis, and malaria ( 46 ).

The spread of epidemics is associated with natural climate disasters and storms, which seem to occur more frequently nowadays ( 47 ). Malnutrition and disequilibration of the immune system are also associated with the emerging infections affecting public health ( 48 ).

The Chikungunya virus “took the airplane” from the Indian Ocean to Europe, as outbreaks of the disease were registered in Italy ( 49 ) as well as autochthonous cases in France ( 50 ).

An increase in cryptosporidiosis in the United Kingdom and in the Czech Republic seems to have occurred following flooding ( 36 , 51 ).

As stated previously, aerosols compounds are tiny in size and considerably affect the climate. They are able to dissipate sunlight (the albedo phenomenon) by dispersing a quarter of the sun's rays back to space and have cooled the global temperature over the last 30 years ( 52 ).

Air Pollutants

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports on six major air pollutants, namely particle pollution, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. Air pollution can have a disastrous effect on all components of the environment, including groundwater, soil, and air. Additionally, it poses a serious threat to living organisms. In this vein, our interest is mainly to focus on these pollutants, as they are related to more extensive and severe problems in human health and environmental impact. Acid rain, global warming, the greenhouse effect, and climate changes have an important ecological impact on air pollution ( 53 ).

Particulate Matter (PM) and Health

Studies have shown a relationship between particulate matter (PM) and adverse health effects, focusing on either short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) PM exposure.

Particulate matter (PM) is usually formed in the atmosphere as a result of chemical reactions between the different pollutants. The penetration of particles is closely dependent on their size ( 53 ). Particulate Matter (PM) was defined as a term for particles by the United States Environmental Protection Agency ( 54 ). Particulate matter (PM) pollution includes particles with diameters of 10 micrometers (μm) or smaller, called PM 10 , and extremely fine particles with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers (μm) and smaller.

Particulate matter contains tiny liquid or solid droplets that can be inhaled and cause serious health effects ( 55 ). Particles <10 μm in diameter (PM 10 ) after inhalation can invade the lungs and even reach the bloodstream. Fine particles, PM 2.5 , pose a greater risk to health ( 6 , 56 ) ( Table 1 ).


Table 1 . Penetrability according to particle size.

Multiple epidemiological studies have been performed on the health effects of PM. A positive relation was shown between both short-term and long-term exposures of PM 2.5 and acute nasopharyngitis ( 56 ). In addition, long-term exposure to PM for years was found to be related to cardiovascular diseases and infant mortality.

Those studies depend on PM 2.5 monitors and are restricted in terms of study area or city area due to a lack of spatially resolved daily PM 2.5 concentration data and, in this way, are not representative of the entire population. Following a recent epidemiological study by the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health (Boston, MA) ( 57 ), it was reported that, as PM 2.5 concentrations vary spatially, an exposure error (Berkson error) seems to be produced, and the relative magnitudes of the short- and long-term effects are not yet completely elucidated. The team developed a PM 2.5 exposure model based on remote sensing data for assessing short- and long-term human exposures ( 57 ). This model permits spatial resolution in short-term effects plus the assessment of long-term effects in the whole population.

Moreover, respiratory diseases and affection of the immune system are registered as long-term chronic effects ( 58 ). It is worth noting that people with asthma, pneumonia, diabetes, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are especially susceptible and vulnerable to the effects of PM. PM 2.5 , followed by PM 10 , are strongly associated with diverse respiratory system diseases ( 59 ), as their size permits them to pierce interior spaces ( 60 ). The particles produce toxic effects according to their chemical and physical properties. The components of PM 10 and PM 2.5 can be organic (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, benzene, 1-3 butadiene) or inorganic (carbon, chlorides, nitrates, sulfates, metals) in nature ( 55 ).

Particulate Matter (PM) is divided into four main categories according to type and size ( 61 ) ( Table 2 ).


Table 2 . Types and sizes of particulate Matter (PM).

Gas contaminants include PM in aerial masses.

Particulate contaminants include contaminants such as smog, soot, tobacco smoke, oil smoke, fly ash, and cement dust.

Biological Contaminants are microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold, and bacterial spores), cat allergens, house dust and allergens, and pollen.

Types of Dust include suspended atmospheric dust, settling dust, and heavy dust.

Finally, another fact is that the half-lives of PM 10 and PM 2.5 particles in the atmosphere is extended due to their tiny dimensions; this permits their long-lasting suspension in the atmosphere and even their transfer and spread to distant destinations where people and the environment may be exposed to the same magnitude of pollution ( 53 ). They are able to change the nutrient balance in watery ecosystems, damage forests and crops, and acidify water bodies.

As stated, PM 2.5 , due to their tiny size, are causing more serious health effects. These aforementioned fine particles are the main cause of the “haze” formation in different metropolitan areas ( 12 , 13 , 61 ).

Ozone Impact in the Atmosphere

Ozone (O 3 ) is a gas formed from oxygen under high voltage electric discharge ( 62 ). It is a strong oxidant, 52% stronger than chlorine. It arises in the stratosphere, but it could also arise following chain reactions of photochemical smog in the troposphere ( 63 ).

Ozone can travel to distant areas from its initial source, moving with air masses ( 64 ). It is surprising that ozone levels over cities are low in contrast to the increased amounts occuring in urban areas, which could become harmful for cultures, forests, and vegetation ( 65 ) as it is reducing carbon assimilation ( 66 ). Ozone reduces growth and yield ( 47 , 48 ) and affects the plant microflora due to its antimicrobial capacity ( 67 , 68 ). In this regard, ozone acts upon other natural ecosystems, with microflora ( 69 , 70 ) and animal species changing their species composition ( 71 ). Ozone increases DNA damage in epidermal keratinocytes and leads to impaired cellular function ( 72 ).

Ground-level ozone (GLO) is generated through a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen and VOCs emitted from natural sources and/or following anthropogenic activities.

Ozone uptake usually occurs by inhalation. Ozone affects the upper layers of the skin and the tear ducts ( 73 ). A study of short-term exposure of mice to high levels of ozone showed malondialdehyde formation in the upper skin (epidermis) but also depletion in vitamins C and E. It is likely that ozone levels are not interfering with the skin barrier function and integrity to predispose to skin disease ( 74 ).

Due to the low water-solubility of ozone, inhaled ozone has the capacity to penetrate deeply into the lungs ( 75 ).

Toxic effects induced by ozone are registered in urban areas all over the world, causing biochemical, morphologic, functional, and immunological disorders ( 76 ).

The European project (APHEA2) focuses on the acute effects of ambient ozone concentrations on mortality ( 77 ). Daily ozone concentrations compared to the daily number of deaths were reported from different European cities for a 3-year period. During the warm period of the year, an observed increase in ozone concentration was associated with an increase in the daily number of deaths (0.33%), in the number of respiratory deaths (1.13%), and in the number of cardiovascular deaths (0.45%). No effect was observed during wintertime.

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide is produced by fossil fuel when combustion is incomplete. The symptoms of poisoning due to inhaling carbon monoxide include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and, finally, loss of consciousness.

The affinity of carbon monoxide to hemoglobin is much greater than that of oxygen. In this vein, serious poisoning may occur in people exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide for a long period of time. Due to the loss of oxygen as a result of the competitive binding of carbon monoxide, hypoxia, ischemia, and cardiovascular disease are observed.

Carbon monoxide affects the greenhouses gases that are tightly connected to global warming and climate. This should lead to an increase in soil and water temperatures, and extreme weather conditions or storms may occur ( 68 ).

However, in laboratory and field experiments, it has been seen to produce increased plant growth ( 78 ).

Nitrogen Oxide (NO 2 )

Nitrogen oxide is a traffic-related pollutant, as it is emitted from automobile motor engines ( 79 , 80 ). It is an irritant of the respiratory system as it penetrates deep in the lung, inducing respiratory diseases, coughing, wheezing, dyspnea, bronchospasm, and even pulmonary edema when inhaled at high levels. It seems that concentrations over 0.2 ppm produce these adverse effects in humans, while concentrations higher than 2.0 ppm affect T-lymphocytes, particularly the CD8+ cells and NK cells that produce our immune response ( 81 ).It is reported that long-term exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide can be responsible for chronic lung disease. Long-term exposure to NO 2 can impair the sense of smell ( 81 ).

However, systems other than respiratory ones can be involved, as symptoms such as eye, throat, and nose irritation have been registered ( 81 ).

High levels of nitrogen dioxide are deleterious to crops and vegetation, as they have been observed to reduce crop yield and plant growth efficiency. Moreover, NO 2 can reduce visibility and discolor fabrics ( 81 ).

Sulfur Dioxide (SO 2 )

Sulfur dioxide is a harmful gas that is emitted mainly from fossil fuel consumption or industrial activities. The annual standard for SO 2 is 0.03 ppm ( 82 ). It affects human, animal, and plant life. Susceptible people as those with lung disease, old people, and children, who present a higher risk of damage. The major health problems associated with sulfur dioxide emissions in industrialized areas are respiratory irritation, bronchitis, mucus production, and bronchospasm, as it is a sensory irritant and penetrates deep into the lung converted into bisulfite and interacting with sensory receptors, causing bronchoconstriction. Moreover, skin redness, damage to the eyes (lacrimation and corneal opacity) and mucous membranes, and worsening of pre-existing cardiovascular disease have been observed ( 81 ).

Environmental adverse effects, such as acidification of soil and acid rain, seem to be associated with sulfur dioxide emissions ( 83 ).

Lead is a heavy metal used in different industrial plants and emitted from some petrol motor engines, batteries, radiators, waste incinerators, and waste waters ( 84 ).

Moreover, major sources of lead pollution in the air are metals, ore, and piston-engine aircraft. Lead poisoning is a threat to public health due to its deleterious effects upon humans, animals, and the environment, especially in the developing countries.

Exposure to lead can occur through inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption. Trans- placental transport of lead was also reported, as lead passes through the placenta unencumbered ( 85 ). The younger the fetus is, the more harmful the toxic effects. Lead toxicity affects the fetal nervous system; edema or swelling of the brain is observed ( 86 ). Lead, when inhaled, accumulates in the blood, soft tissue, liver, lung, bones, and cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems. Moreover, loss of concentration and memory, as well as muscle and joint pain, were observed in adults ( 85 , 86 ).

Children and newborns ( 87 ) are extremely susceptible even to minimal doses of lead, as it is a neurotoxicant and causes learning disabilities, impairment of memory, hyperactivity, and even mental retardation.

Elevated amounts of lead in the environment are harmful to plants and crop growth. Neurological effects are observed in vertebrates and animals in association with high lead levels ( 88 ).

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons(PAHs)

The distribution of PAHs is ubiquitous in the environment, as the atmosphere is the most important means of their dispersal. They are found in coal and in tar sediments. Moreover, they are generated through incomplete combustion of organic matter as in the cases of forest fires, incineration, and engines ( 89 ). PAH compounds, such as benzopyrene, acenaphthylene, anthracene, and fluoranthene are recognized as toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic substances. They are an important risk factor for lung cancer ( 89 ).

Volatile Organic Compounds(VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as toluene, benzene, ethylbenzene, and xylene ( 90 ), have been found to be associated with cancer in humans ( 91 ). The use of new products and materials has actually resulted in increased concentrations of VOCs. VOCs pollute indoor air ( 90 ) and may have adverse effects on human health ( 91 ). Short-term and long-term adverse effects on human health are observed. VOCs are responsible for indoor air smells. Short-term exposure is found to cause irritation of eyes, nose, throat, and mucosal membranes, while those of long duration exposure include toxic reactions ( 92 ). Predictable assessment of the toxic effects of complex VOC mixtures is difficult to estimate, as these pollutants can have synergic, antagonistic, or indifferent effects ( 91 , 93 ).

Dioxins originate from industrial processes but also come from natural processes, such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions. They accumulate in foods such as meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish, and especially in the fatty tissue of animals ( 94 ).

Short-period exhibition to high dioxin concentrations may result in dark spots and lesions on the skin ( 94 ). Long-term exposure to dioxins can cause developmental problems, impairment of the immune, endocrine and nervous systems, reproductive infertility, and cancer ( 94 ).

Without any doubt, fossil fuel consumption is responsible for a sizeable part of air contamination. This contamination may be anthropogenic, as in agricultural and industrial processes or transportation, while contamination from natural sources is also possible. Interestingly, it is of note that the air quality standards established through the European Air Quality Directive are somewhat looser than the WHO guidelines, which are stricter ( 95 ).

Effect of Air Pollution on Health

The most common air pollutants are ground-level ozone and Particulates Matter (PM). Air pollution is distinguished into two main types:

Outdoor pollution is the ambient air pollution.

Indoor pollution is the pollution generated by household combustion of fuels.

People exposed to high concentrations of air pollutants experience disease symptoms and states of greater and lesser seriousness. These effects are grouped into short- and long-term effects affecting health.

Susceptible populations that need to be aware of health protection measures include old people, children, and people with diabetes and predisposing heart or lung disease, especially asthma.

As extensively stated previously, according to a recent epidemiological study from Harvard School of Public Health, the relative magnitudes of the short- and long-term effects have not been completely clarified ( 57 ) due to the different epidemiological methodologies and to the exposure errors. New models are proposed for assessing short- and long-term human exposure data more successfully ( 57 ). Thus, in the present section, we report the more common short- and long-term health effects but also general concerns for both types of effects, as these effects are often dependent on environmental conditions, dose, and individual susceptibility.

Short-term effects are temporary and range from simple discomfort, such as irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, throat, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness, and breathing difficulties, to more serious states, such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, and lung and heart problems. Short-term exposure to air pollution can also cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness.

These problems can be aggravated by extended long-term exposure to the pollutants, which is harmful to the neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems and causes cancer and even, rarely, deaths.

The long-term effects are chronic, lasting for years or the whole life and can even lead to death. Furthermore, the toxicity of several air pollutants may also induce a variety of cancers in the long term ( 96 ).

As stated already, respiratory disorders are closely associated with the inhalation of air pollutants. These pollutants will invade through the airways and will accumulate at the cells. Damage to target cells should be related to the pollutant component involved and its source and dose. Health effects are also closely dependent on country, area, season, and time. An extended exposure duration to the pollutant should incline to long-term health effects in relation also to the above factors.

Particulate Matter (PMs), dust, benzene, and O 3 cause serious damage to the respiratory system ( 97 ). Moreover, there is a supplementary risk in case of existing respiratory disease such as asthma ( 98 ). Long-term effects are more frequent in people with a predisposing disease state. When the trachea is contaminated by pollutants, voice alterations may be remarked after acute exposure. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be induced following air pollution, increasing morbidity and mortality ( 99 ). Long-term effects from traffic, industrial air pollution, and combustion of fuels are the major factors for COPD risk ( 99 ).

Multiple cardiovascular effects have been observed after exposure to air pollutants ( 100 ). Changes occurred in blood cells after long-term exposure may affect cardiac functionality. Coronary arteriosclerosis was reported following long-term exposure to traffic emissions ( 101 ), while short-term exposure is related to hypertension, stroke, myocardial infracts, and heart insufficiency. Ventricle hypertrophy is reported to occur in humans after long-time exposure to nitrogen oxide (NO 2 ) ( 102 , 103 ).

Neurological effects have been observed in adults and children after extended-term exposure to air pollutants.

Psychological complications, autism, retinopathy, fetal growth, and low birth weight seem to be related to long-term air pollution ( 83 ). The etiologic agent of the neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer's and Parkinson's) is not yet known, although it is believed that extended exposure to air pollution seems to be a factor. Specifically, pesticides and metals are cited as etiological factors, together with diet. The mechanisms in the development of neurodegenerative disease include oxidative stress, protein aggregation, inflammation, and mitochondrial impairment in neurons ( 104 ) ( Figure 1 ).


Figure 1 . Impact of air pollutants on the brain.

Brain inflammation was observed in dogs living in a highly polluted area in Mexico for a long period ( 105 ). In human adults, markers of systemic inflammation (IL-6 and fibrinogen) were found to be increased as an immediate response to PNC on the IL-6 level, possibly leading to the production of acute-phase proteins ( 106 ). The progression of atherosclerosis and oxidative stress seem to be the mechanisms involved in the neurological disturbances caused by long-term air pollution. Inflammation comes secondary to the oxidative stress and seems to be involved in the impairment of developmental maturation, affecting multiple organs ( 105 , 107 ). Similarly, other factors seem to be involved in the developmental maturation, which define the vulnerability to long-term air pollution. These include birthweight, maternal smoking, genetic background and socioeconomic environment, as well as education level.

However, diet, starting from breast-feeding, is another determinant factor. Diet is the main source of antioxidants, which play a key role in our protection against air pollutants ( 108 ). Antioxidants are free radical scavengers and limit the interaction of free radicals in the brain ( 108 ). Similarly, genetic background may result in a differential susceptibility toward the oxidative stress pathway ( 60 ). For example, antioxidant supplementation with vitamins C and E appears to modulate the effect of ozone in asthmatic children homozygous for the GSTM1 null allele ( 61 ). Inflammatory cytokines released in the periphery (e.g., respiratory epithelia) upregulate the innate immune Toll-like receptor 2. Such activation and the subsequent events leading to neurodegeneration have recently been observed in lung lavage in mice exposed to ambient Los Angeles (CA, USA) particulate matter ( 61 ). In children, neurodevelopmental morbidities were observed after lead exposure. These children developed aggressive and delinquent behavior, reduced intelligence, learning difficulties, and hyperactivity ( 109 ). No level of lead exposure seems to be “safe,” and the scientific community has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce the current screening guideline of 10 μg/dl ( 109 ).

It is important to state that impact on the immune system, causing dysfunction and neuroinflammation ( 104 ), is related to poor air quality. Yet, increases in serum levels of immunoglobulins (IgA, IgM) and the complement component C3 are observed ( 106 ). Another issue is that antigen presentation is affected by air pollutants, as there is an upregulation of costimulatory molecules such as CD80 and CD86 on macrophages ( 110 ).

As is known, skin is our shield against ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and other pollutants, as it is the most exterior layer of our body. Traffic-related pollutants, such as PAHs, VOCs, oxides, and PM, may cause pigmented spots on our skin ( 111 ). On the one hand, as already stated, when pollutants penetrate through the skin or are inhaled, damage to the organs is observed, as some of these pollutants are mutagenic and carcinogenic, and, specifically, they affect the liver and lung. On the other hand, air pollutants (and those in the troposphere) reduce the adverse effects of ultraviolet radiation UVR in polluted urban areas ( 111 ). Air pollutants absorbed by the human skin may contribute to skin aging, psoriasis, acne, urticaria, eczema, and atopic dermatitis ( 111 ), usually caused by exposure to oxides and photochemical smoke ( 111 ). Exposure to PM and cigarette smoking act as skin-aging agents, causing spots, dyschromia, and wrinkles. Lastly, pollutants have been associated with skin cancer ( 111 ).

Higher morbidity is reported to fetuses and children when exposed to the above dangers. Impairment in fetal growth, low birth weight, and autism have been reported ( 112 ).

Another exterior organ that may be affected is the eye. Contamination usually comes from suspended pollutants and may result in asymptomatic eye outcomes, irritation ( 112 ), retinopathy, or dry eye syndrome ( 113 , 114 ).

Environmental Impact of Air Pollution

Air pollution is harming not only human health but also the environment ( 115 ) in which we live. The most important environmental effects are as follows.

Acid rain is wet (rain, fog, snow) or dry (particulates and gas) precipitation containing toxic amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids. They are able to acidify the water and soil environments, damage trees and plantations, and even damage buildings and outdoor sculptures, constructions, and statues.

Haze is produced when fine particles are dispersed in the air and reduce the transparency of the atmosphere. It is caused by gas emissions in the air coming from industrial facilities, power plants, automobiles, and trucks.

Ozone , as discussed previously, occurs both at ground level and in the upper level (stratosphere) of the Earth's atmosphere. Stratospheric ozone is protecting us from the Sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. In contrast, ground-level ozone is harmful to human health and is a pollutant. Unfortunately, stratospheric ozone is gradually damaged by ozone-depleting substances (i.e., chemicals, pesticides, and aerosols). If this protecting stratospheric ozone layer is thinned, then UV radiation can reach our Earth, with harmful effects for human life (skin cancer) ( 116 ) and crops ( 117 ). In plants, ozone penetrates through the stomata, inducing them to close, which blocks CO 2 transfer and induces a reduction in photosynthesis ( 118 ).

Global climate change is an important issue that concerns mankind. As is known, the “greenhouse effect” keeps the Earth's temperature stable. Unhappily, anthropogenic activities have destroyed this protecting temperature effect by producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, and global warming is mounting, with harmful effects on human health, animals, forests, wildlife, agriculture, and the water environment. A report states that global warming is adding to the health risks of poor people ( 119 ).

People living in poorly constructed buildings in warm-climate countries are at high risk for heat-related health problems as temperatures mount ( 119 ).

Wildlife is burdened by toxic pollutants coming from the air, soil, or the water ecosystem and, in this way, animals can develop health problems when exposed to high levels of pollutants. Reproductive failure and birth effects have been reported.

Eutrophication is occurring when elevated concentrations of nutrients (especially nitrogen) stimulate the blooming of aquatic algae, which can cause a disequilibration in the diversity of fish and their deaths.

Without a doubt, there is a critical concentration of pollution that an ecosystem can tolerate without being destroyed, which is associated with the ecosystem's capacity to neutralize acidity. The Canada Acid Rain Program established this load at 20 kg/ha/yr ( 120 ).

Hence, air pollution has deleterious effects on both soil and water ( 121 ). Concerning PM as an air pollutant, its impact on crop yield and food productivity has been reported. Its impact on watery bodies is associated with the survival of living organisms and fishes and their productivity potential ( 121 ).

An impairment in photosynthetic rhythm and metabolism is observed in plants exposed to the effects of ozone ( 121 ).

Sulfur and nitrogen oxides are involved in the formation of acid rain and are harmful to plants and marine organisms.

Last but not least, as mentioned above, the toxicity associated with lead and other metals is the main threat to our ecosystems (air, water, and soil) and living creatures ( 121 ).

In 2018, during the first WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, the WHO's General Director, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called air pollution a “silent public health emergency” and “the new tobacco” ( 122 ).

Undoubtedly, children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, especially during their development. Air pollution has adverse effects on our lives in many different respects.

Diseases associated with air pollution have not only an important economic impact but also a societal impact due to absences from productive work and school.

Despite the difficulty of eradicating the problem of anthropogenic environmental pollution, a successful solution could be envisaged as a tight collaboration of authorities, bodies, and doctors to regularize the situation. Governments should spread sufficient information and educate people and should involve professionals in these issues so as to control the emergence of the problem successfully.

Technologies to reduce air pollution at the source must be established and should be used in all industries and power plants. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 set as a major target the reduction of GHG emissions to below 5% by 2012 ( 123 ). This was followed by the Copenhagen summit, 2009 ( 124 ), and then the Durban summit of 2011 ( 125 ), where it was decided to keep to the same line of action. The Kyoto protocol and the subsequent ones were ratified by many countries. Among the pioneers who adopted this important protocol for the world's environmental and climate “health” was China ( 3 ). As is known, China is a fast-developing economy and its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is expected to be very high by 2050, which is defined as the year of dissolution of the protocol for the decrease in gas emissions.

A more recent international agreement of crucial importance for climate change is the Paris Agreement of 2015, issued by the UNFCCC (United Nations Climate Change Committee). This latest agreement was ratified by a plethora of UN (United Nations) countries as well as the countries of the European Union ( 126 ). In this vein, parties should promote actions and measures to enhance numerous aspects around the subject. Boosting education, training, public awareness, and public participation are some of the relevant actions for maximizing the opportunities to achieve the targets and goals on the crucial matter of climate change and environmental pollution ( 126 ). Without any doubt, technological improvements makes our world easier and it seems difficult to reduce the harmful impact caused by gas emissions, we could limit its use by seeking reliable approaches.

Synopsizing, a global prevention policy should be designed in order to combat anthropogenic air pollution as a complement to the correct handling of the adverse health effects associated with air pollution. Sustainable development practices should be applied, together with information coming from research in order to handle the problem effectively.

At this point, international cooperation in terms of research, development, administration policy, monitoring, and politics is vital for effective pollution control. Legislation concerning air pollution must be aligned and updated, and policy makers should propose the design of a powerful tool of environmental and health protection. As a result, the main proposal of this essay is that we should focus on fostering local structures to promote experience and practice and extrapolate these to the international level through developing effective policies for sustainable management of ecosystems.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest

IM is employed by the company Delphis S.A.

The remaining authors declare that the present review paper was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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91. Molhave L, Clausen G, Berglund B, Ceaurriz J, Kettrup A, Lindvall T, et al. Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC) in Indoor Air Quality Investigations. Indoor Air . 7:225–240. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.1997.00002.x

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94. WHO (World Health Organization). Dioxins and Their Effects on Human Health. Available online at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health (accessed October 5, 2019).

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113. Mo Z, Fu Q, Lyu D, Zhang L, Qin Z, Tang Q, et al. Impacts of air pollution on dry eye disease among residents in Hangzhou, China: a case-crossover study. Environ Pollut . (2019) 246:183–9. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.11.109

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Keywords: air pollution, environment, health, public health, gas emission, policy

Citation: Manisalidis I, Stavropoulou E, Stavropoulos A and Bezirtzoglou E (2020) Environmental and Health Impacts of Air Pollution: A Review. Front. Public Health 8:14. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00014

Received: 17 October 2019; Accepted: 17 January 2020; Published: 20 February 2020.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2020 Manisalidis, Stavropoulou, Stavropoulos and Bezirtzoglou. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Ioannis Manisalidis, giannismanisal@gmail.com ; Elisavet Stavropoulou, elisabeth.stavropoulou@gmail.com

† These authors have contributed equally to this work

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Air pollution, explained

Pollutants in the air aren't always visible and come from many different sources.

Despite decades of progress, the air quality in the United States has started to decline over the past few years, according to data provided in summer 2019 by the Environmental Protection Agency . The agency recorded 15 percent more days with unhealthy air in the country in 2018 and 2017 compared to the average from 2013 to 2016.

The reasons for the recent decline in air quality remain unclear, says the agency, but may be related to high numbers of wildfires , a warming climate, and increasing human consumption patterns driven by population growth and a strong economy. The long-term outlook also remains unclear, even as politicians debate air pollution standards.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is a mix of particles and gases that can reach harmful concentrations both outside and indoors. Its effects can range from higher disease risks to rising temperatures. Soot, smoke, mold, pollen, methane, and carbon dioxide are a just few examples of common pollutants.

In the U.S., one measure of outdoor air pollution is the Air Quality Index, or AQI which rates air conditions across the country based on concentrations of five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (or particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Some of those also contribute to indoor air pollution , along with radon, cigarette smoke, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, asbestos, and other substances.

A global health hazard

Poor air quality kills people. Worldwide, bad outdoor air caused an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths in 2016 , about 90 percent of them in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. Indoor smoke is an ongoing health threat to the 3 billion people who cook and heat their homes by burning biomass, kerosene, and coal. Air pollution has been linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases such as asthma. In   the U.S. nearly 134 million people—over 40 percent of the population—are at risk of disease and premature death because of air pollution, according to American Lung Association estimates .

a melting iceberg

While those effects emerge from long-term exposure, air pollution can also cause short-term problems such as sneezing and coughing, eye irritation, headaches, and dizziness. Particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers (classified as PM 10 and the even smaller PM 2.5 ) pose higher health risks because they can be breathed deeply into the lungs and may cross into the bloodstream.

For Hungry Minds

Air pollutants cause less-direct health effects when they contribute to climate change . Heat waves, extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and other effects related to increased greenhouse gases can have negative impacts on human health. The U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment released in 2018 noted, for example, that a changing climate "could expose more people in North America to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as West Nile, chikungunya, dengue, and Zika."

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Environmental impacts.

Though many living things emit carbon dioxide when they breathe, the gas is widely considered to be a pollutant when associated with cars, planes, power plants, and other human activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas. That's because carbon dioxide is the most common of the greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Humans have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past 150 years to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years .

Other greenhouse gases include methane —which comes from such sources as landfills, the natural gas industry, and gas emitted by livestock —and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants until they were banned in the late 1980s because of their deteriorating effect on Earth's ozone layer.


Another pollutant associated with climate change is sulfur dioxide, a component of smog. Sulfur dioxide and closely related chemicals are known primarily as a cause of acid rain . But they also reflect light when released in the atmosphere, which keeps sunlight out and creates a cooling effect. Volcanic eruptions can spew massive amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, sometimes causing cooling that lasts for years. In fact, volcanoes used to be the main source of atmospheric sulfur dioxide; today, people are.

Airborne particles, depending on their chemical makeup, can also have direct effects separate from climate change. They can change or deplete nutrients in soil and waterways, harm forests and crops, and damage cultural icons such as monuments and statues.

What can be done?

Countries around the world are tackling various forms of air pollution. China, for example, is making strides in cleaning up smog-choked skies from years of rapid industrial expansion, partly by closing or canceling coal-fired power plants. In the U.S., California has been a leader in setting emissions standards aimed at improving air quality, especially in places like famously hazy Los Angeles. And a variety of efforts aim to bring cleaner cooking options to places where hazardous cookstoves are prevalent.

In any home, people can safeguard against indoor air pollution by increasing ventilation, testing for radon gas, using air purifiers, running kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, and avoiding smoking. When working on home projects, look for paint and other products low in volatile organic compounds: organizations such as Green Seal , UL (GREENGUARD) , and the U.S. Green Building Council can help.

To curb global warming, a variety of measures need to be taken , such as adding more renewable energy and replacing gasoline-fueled cars with zero-emissions vehicles such as electric ones. On a larger scale, governments at all levels are making commitments to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Paris Agreement , ratified on November 4, 2016, is one effort to combat climate change on a global scale. And the Kigali Amendment seeks to further the progress made by the Montreal Protocol , banning heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in addition to CFCs.

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  • Biology Article
  • Essay On Air Pollution 200 Words 500 Words

Essay on Air Pollution

Essay on air pollution is a crucial topic for students from an academic perspective. Moreover, an essay is one of the most effective ways to educate students about the plight of nature and the repercussions of human activities. Creating awareness for future generations is important if we have to undo decades of ignorance and neglect.

Furthermore, air pollution essay helps students to realize the gravity of the scenario and enable them to take action. Some as simple as using public transport or even carpooling will help reduce a significant amount of air pollution. Read on to discover how to write an engaging essay on air pollution.

Essay on Air Pollution – Important Points to Note

Please consider adopting the following points when writing an essay on air pollution. These tips are also helpful for other essay topics as well:

  • Always begin with an introductory paragraph about the topic, preferably detailing its origin.
  • Unless the topic is technical, try to avoid jargons.
  • Present content in bulleted points wherever possible
  • Insert factual data, such as important dates, places or name wherever possible.
  • Avoid writing the content in a large monotonous block of text. Remember to break up the content into digestible chunks
  • Always conclude the essay with a closing paragraph.

Essay on Air Pollution – Sample 1 (200 Words)

Air pollution is a serious issue and a cause for major concern in today’s world. A report published in 2014  by the World Health Organisation states that 4.21 million individuals died prematurely in 2012 as a result of air pollution. Air pollution existed much before humans, in the form of volcanic eruptions and forest fires. However, it became much more prevalent after the Industrial Revolution.

Rapid industrial growth, unregulated emissions and a host of other issues significantly contributed to the rise in air pollution. In some cases, the severity of air pollution reached an extent where government intervention was necessary. The Great Smog of London, 1952, was an extreme case of air pollution where visibility was severely hampered. It also caused a host of illnesses and the consequent deaths of countless civilians. In November 2017, the levels of air pollution in Delhi were ten times above the safe limits. For reference, the healthy air quality index is between 0 to 50, but during that particular time period, the air quality index hit 500+. This event is now called the Great Smog of Delhi.

An air quality index of 500 and above indicates that the air is heavily polluted and will cause irreversible lung damage and a host of other illnesses to everyone who is exposed to it. Therefore, to avoid such situations in the future, relevant actions must be implemented.

Essay on Air Pollution – Sample 2 (500 Words)

Air pollution may seem like the result of anthropological activities, however, it has been around even before humans evolved. Places which are naturally arid and have minimal vegetation are prone to dust storms. When this particulate matter is added to the air, it can cause health issues in animals exposed to the dust storms.

Furthermore, active volcanoes pump extremely large amounts of toxic plumes and particulate matter into the atmosphere. Wildfires also pump large amounts of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and hamper photosynthesis for plants. Even animals, especially ruminants such as cows contribute to global warming by producing large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas.

However, air pollution was never a major concern until the industrial revolution. Industries grew rapidly, untreated emissions were pumped into the atmosphere, and the rise of automobiles significantly contributed to air pollution. Such activities continued without any restrictions until they started to cause a wide range of repercussions.

In humans, air polluted with contaminants can cause a wide array of illnesses ranging from asthma and bronchitis the various forms of cancer. Air pollution is not only present outdoors; interior air pollution is also a great concern. Recent research has actually found credible evidence that room fresheners have the many compounds within them, some of which are classified carcinogens. This means some of those compounds present in the aerosol has the potential to cause some forms of cancer. Other sources of air pollution can include gases such as carbon monoxide and radon.

Radon, in particular, is quite alarming. It is an odourless, colourless gas that occurs naturally. It is found in the soil as Uranium, which breaks down and eventually turns into radon gas. Radon has limited repercussions on health if exposed to low concentrations, however, when this gas gets trapped indoor, the higher levels of concentration can have wreak havoc or ultimately be lethal. Radon is also reported to be released from building materials such as granite. Exposure to radon causes no immediate health effects, but long term exposure has the potential to cause lung cancer.

Air pollution not only affects the lungs but the central nervous system too. It has been linked to a lot of diseases such as schizophrenia and autism. A study also implied that it can cause short-term memory losses or distortion of memory.

Historically, air pollution has caused many crises with the worst ever being the Bhopal Disaster in 1984. Fatalities were estimated at 3,800, with at least 600,000 injured. Next in severity was the Great Smog of 1952 which formed over London, killing an estimated 4,000 civilians over the course of four days.

Though measures have been taken to reduce the effects of air pollution, a lot of irreversible damage has been done. For instance, the effects of global warming have drastically increased; this is very apparent with the rise in sea levels and melting glaciers. If the ice caps continue to melt, then we will have to face drastic repercussions. Scientists have proposed a hypothetical scenario where the greenhouse effect becomes “uncontrolled.” Here, greenhouse gases build up and temperatures continue to rise steeply. Oceans will start to evaporate, adding more water vapour into the earth’s atmosphere. This intensifies the effect, reaching a point where temperatures are sufficiently high for rocks start sublimating. Though this scenario is hypothetical, some speculate that this phenomenon already occurred on Venus. The supporters of this theory back this up by claiming Venus has an atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide. The theory also explains why Venus has an extremely high surface temperature of 462 degrees Celcius; which is in fact, the hottest planet in the solar system.

Hence, we need to reduce our impact on the planet and make a conscious effort to reduce air pollution. Explore more essay topics or other fascinating concepts by registering at BYJU’S

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Air Pollution

Our overview of indoor and outdoor air pollution.

By Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser

This article was first published in October 2017 and last revised in February 2024.

Air pollution is one of the world's largest health and environmental problems. It develops in two contexts: indoor (household) air pollution and outdoor air pollution.

In this topic page, we look at the aggregate picture of air pollution – both indoor and outdoor. We also have dedicated topic pages that look in more depth at these subjects:

Indoor Air Pollution

Look in detail at the data and research on the health impacts of Indoor Air Pollution, attributed deaths, and its causes across the world

Outdoor Air Pollution

Look in detail at the data and research on exposure to Outdoor Air Pollution, its health impacts, and attributed deaths across the world

Look in detail at the data and research on energy consumption, its impacts around the world today, and how this has changed over time

See all interactive charts on Air Pollution ↓

Other research and writing on air pollution on Our World in Data:

  • Air pollution: does it get worse before it gets better?
  • Data Review: How many people die from air pollution?
  • Energy poverty and indoor air pollution: a problem as old as humanity that we can end within our lifetime
  • How many people do not have access to clean fuels for cooking?
  • What are the safest and cleanest sources of energy?
  • What the history of London’s air pollution can tell us about the future of today’s growing megacities
  • When will countries phase out coal power?

Air pollution is one of the world's leading risk factors for death

Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths each year.

Air pollution – the combination of outdoor and indoor particulate matter and ozone – is a risk factor for many of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in its Global Burden of Disease study, provides estimates of the number of deaths attributed to the range of risk factors for disease. 1

In the visualization, we see the number of deaths per year attributed to each risk factor. This chart shows the global total but can be explored for any country or region using the "change country" toggle.

Air pollution is one of the leading risk factors for death. In low-income countries, it is often very near the top of the list (or is the leading risk factor).

Air pollution contributes to one in ten deaths globally

In recent years, air pollution has contributed to one in ten deaths globally. 2

In the map shown here, we see the share of deaths attributed to air pollution across the world.

Air pollution is one of the leading risk factors for disease burden

Air pollution is one of the leading risk factors for death. But its impacts go even further; it is also one of the main contributors to the global disease burden.

Global disease burden takes into account not only years of life lost to early death but also the number of years lived in poor health.

In the visualization, we see risk factors ranked in order of DALYs – disability-adjusted life years – the metric used to assess disease burden. Again, air pollution is near the top of the list, making it one of the leading risk factors for poor health across the world.

Air pollution not only takes years from people's lives but also has a large effect on the quality of life while they're still living.

Who is most affected by air pollution?

Death rates from air pollution are highest in low-to-middle-income countries.

Air pollution is a health and environmental issue across all countries of the world but with large differences in severity.

In the interactive map, we show death rates from air pollution across the world, measured as the number of deaths per 100,000 people in a given country or region.

The burden of air pollution tends to be greater across both low and middle-income countries for two reasons: indoor pollution rates tend to be high in low-income countries due to a reliance on solid fuels for cooking, and outdoor air pollution tends to increase as countries industrialize and shift from low to middle incomes.

A map of the number of deaths from air pollution by country can be found here .

How are death rates from air pollution changing?

Death rates from air pollution are falling – mainly due to improvements in indoor pollution.

In the visualization, we show global death rates from air pollution over time – shown as the total air pollution – in addition to the individual contributions from outdoor and indoor pollution.

Globally, we see that in recent decades, the death rates from total air pollution have declined: since 1990, death rates have nearly halved. But, as we see from the breakdown, this decline has been primarily driven by improvements in indoor air pollution.

Death rates from indoor air pollution have seen an impressive decline, while improvements in outdoor pollution have been much more modest.

You can explore this data for any country or region using the "change country" toggle on the interactive chart.

Interactive charts on air pollution

Murray, C. J., Aravkin, A. Y., Zheng, P., Abbafati, C., Abbas, K. M., Abbasi-Kangevari, M., ... & Borzouei, S. (2020). Global burden of 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories, 1990–2019: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 .  The Lancet ,  396 (10258), 1223-1249.

Here, we use the term 'contributes,' meaning it was one of the attributed risk factors for a given disease or cause of death. There can be multiple risk factors for a given disease that can amplify one another. This means that in some cases, air pollution was not the only risk factor but one of several.

Cite this work

Our articles and data visualizations rely on work from many different people and organizations. When citing this topic page, please also cite the underlying data sources. This topic page can be cited as:

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All visualizations, data, and code produced by Our World in Data are completely open access under the Creative Commons BY license . You have the permission to use, distribute, and reproduce these in any medium, provided the source and authors are credited.

The data produced by third parties and made available by Our World in Data is subject to the license terms from the original third-party authors. We will always indicate the original source of the data in our documentation, so you should always check the license of any such third-party data before use and redistribution.

All of our charts can be embedded in any site.

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Help us do this work by making a donation.

Air Pollution: Public Health Impact Qualitative Research


Over the years, environmentalists have intensified research on air pollution. Air pollution has been attributed to activities such as air travel, coal mining, and geological storage, among others. Consequently, this has increased health-associated risks in societies. The paper will summarize articles on human activities and their effects on human health.

International Air Travel and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Proposal for an Adaptation Levy

This article begins by recounting the benefits of air travel as well as its expansion throughout the world. According to the authors, Cameron and Benito, globalization was essential in driving commercial aviation. The article begins by exploring the nature and scale of challenges associated with greenhouse emissions in aviation. It argues that increase in emissions is a direct result of increase in growth of air travel since World War II.

Using various examples such as those from the European Union, the article cites increase in use of aviation fuel as a source of emissions in air travel.

Despite the fact that pollution from aviation forms about 4% of total air pollution by green house gasses, IATA has continued to pursue implementation of a proposal aimed at minimizing air pollution. The article cites inadequacies in current policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions. It suggests a proposal, which fronts for emission minimization incentives and charges, among others.

According to the article, aviation emissions are increasing at an alarming rate. In fact, it proposes major changes in policies to address potential challenges caused by air pollution. It also faults Kyoto Protocol for exclusion of policy changes aimed at reducing air pollution.

The article; therefore, put forward an IATAL to help tackle environmental issues arising from air travel. The authors believe that IATAL would provide stability in the industry more than the current scheme of auction. Moreover, they argue that IATAL would be accepted throughout the world since it addresses the repercussions of climate change (Hepburn & Müller, 2010, pp. 830-849).

Issue profile: environmental issues and the geological storage of CO2

This article relates environmental issues with carbon dioxide emissions. It begins by reaffirming the fact that increased carbon dioxide emission is likely to bring about oceanic acidification and climate change. These changes are expected to bring with them severe repercussions for humanity and ecosystems.

The paper explores strategies being sought to help minimize emissions, which include geological storage for carbon dioxide emissions. According to the article, existing studies only focus on gas and oil regulatory framework. However, the authors believe that if studies are also focused on non-oil reservoir formations, the frameworks utilized above may be inconclusive.

The paper goes on to state that the level of concern for uncontrolled carbon dioxide emissions is high in Europe. In fact, the authors also believe that release of such emissions from their storage sites are causing concerns among regulators. In essence, the paper calls for a new framework that would apply for both oil and non-oil reservoirs.

Moreover, the paper recommends that the effects of chronic and acute contact of ecosystems with carbon dioxide be evaluated. Additionally, it recommends inclusion of specific information addressing leakages from storage sites. The paper explores data to evaluate its capability in assisting regulators to implement these changes. Sadly, the amount of data is inadequate to help regulators.

It therefore exposes the gaps in assessing possible impacts of carbon dioxide leakages on subsurface, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems. The authors also believe that knowledge on impacts of carbon dioxide leakage would enable regulators to refine risk assessments.

Additionally, it would provide limits and data on recovery rates. Furthermore, it would also help in assessing ecosystem changes for CCS sites in future (West, Pearce, Bentham & Maul, 2005, pp. 250-259).

Opencast coal mining in India: Analyzing and addressing the air environmental impacts

This article explores air environmental impacts of opencast coal mining in India. It begins by arguing that opencast mining causes more environmental issues than underground mining. Among the concerns raised in the article is deterioration of air quality, among others, which affect not only the surrounding but also the mining area. Nonetheless, the paper describes opencast mining to be a success in India.

This, the article argues, is attributed to the rising need for energy. Moreover, increased concerns for underground mining have also led to shifting technologies on opencast mining. The paper utilizes factal analysis to provide an understanding of air pollutants and their effects in opencast mining. The paper recommends numerous ways of reducing air pollution in opencast mining.

Some of the recommendations pointed include monitoring of wind direction and pollution concentrations around the mines, use of green belt, dust control, and water spraying, among others. The paper also argues that opencast mining pollution is caused mainly by generation of dust. Moreover, the paper notes high levels of pollutants, which are hazardous to human health.

The article also explains the process of factal analysis as well as its outcome in analyzing pollution in India from opencast mining. Moreover, the article recommends a practical scheme for minimizing air pollution opencast mining. It also suggests that this methodology be extended to other site types (Ghose, 2007, pp. 71-87).

Article on Public Heath

This article explains how air pollution contributes to morbidity and mortality. It does this by estimating the effects of traffic related air pollution and impact of outdoor pollution on public health. This study was conducted in three European countries namely Austria, Switzerland, and France. Impacts of air pollution were quantified using epidemiology based exposure-response functions for an increase in particulate matter.

The cases that were attributable to air pollution were classified according to ages namely, 30 years, 25 years, 20 years, and 15 years respectively. This was then modeled for each square kilometer. Asthma attacks in both adults and children were explored, as well as restricted activity days, among others.

Findings indicated that over 40000 that represent over 6% of death cases (mortality) were caused by air pollution on a yearly basis. In addition, motorized traffic caused nearly half of all mortality arising from air pollution. Moreover, this attributed to 16 million person-day restricted activities, over 500000 of asthma attacks, over 290000 of bronchitis in children and over 25000 new cases of bronchitis in adults.

The paper estimated the impact of air pollution in public health. It suggests that although individual concerns from air pollution are minimal, public health concern are substantial. Besides, it affirms that public health targets air pollution as its main areas of concern in Europe.

Finally, it suggests that results from the study are resourceful in assessment of environmental health-policy options (Kunzli, Kaiser, Medina, Studnicka, Chanel, Filliger &… Sommer, 2000, p. 795).

Air pollution is an area of concern to the world at large. The paper explores various air pollutants such as dust, carbon dioxide emissions, and green house gas emissions. In this regard, the paper explores various articles on opencast coals mining, aviation emissions, and geological storage of carbon dioxide and public health concerns in air pollution.

Notably, each of the articles provides recommendations for reducing air pollution. For instance, change in policies is mentioned profoundly in the articles, among other measures. In essence, the articles show that studies on air pollution are important for its mitigation.

Ghose, M. K. (2007). Opencast coal mining in India: Analyzing and addressing the air environmental impacts. Environmental Quality Management, 16 (3), 71-87.

Hepburn, C., & Müller, B. (2010). International Air Travel and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Proposal for an Adaptation Levy. World Economy, 33 (6), 830-849.

Kunzli, N., Kaiser, R., Medina, S., Studnicka, M., Chanel, O., Filliger, P., &… Sommer, H. (2000). Public-health impact of outdoor and traffic-related air pollution: a European assessment. Lancet, 356 (9232), 795.

West, J. M., Pearce, J., Bentham, M., & Maul, P. (2005). Issue profile: environmental issues and the geological storage of CO2. European Environment: The Journal of European Environmental Policy (Wiley), 15 (4), 250-259.

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essay on air pollution and its impact

by Chris Woodford . Last updated: November 22, 2022.

Photo: Air pollution is obvious when it pours from a smokestack (chimney), but it's not always so easy to spot. This is an old photo of the kind of smoke that used to come from coal-fired power plants and, apart from soot (unburned carbon particles), its pollutants include sulfur dioxide and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Thanks to tougher pollution controls, modern power plants produce only a fraction as much pollution. Modern pollution made by traffic consists of gases like nitrogen dioxide and "particulates" (microscopic soot and dust fragments) that are largely invisible.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is a gas (or a liquid or solid dispersed through ordinary air) released in a big enough quantity to harm the health of people or other animals, kill plants or stop them growing properly, damage or disrupt some other aspect of the environment (such as making buildings crumble), or cause some other kind of nuisance (reduced visibility, perhaps, or an unpleasant odor).

Natural air pollution

Photo: Forest fires are a completely natural cause of air pollution. We'll never be able to prevent them breaking out or stop the pollution they cause; our best hope is to manage forests, where we can, so fires don't spread. Ironically, that can mean deliberately burning areas of forest, as shown here, to create firebreaks. Forests are also deliberately burned to regenerate ecosystems. Photo by courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service .

Top-ten kinds of air pollution Photo: Flying molecules—if you could see air pollution close up, this is what it would look like. Image courtesy of US Department of Energy. Any gas could qualify as pollution if it reached a high enough concentration to do harm. Theoretically, that means there are dozens of different pollution gases. It's important to note that not all the things we think of as pollution are gases: some are aerosols (liquids or solids dispersed through gases). 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. [5] Large amounts of sulfur dioxide are also produced by ships, which use dirtier diesel fuel than cars and trucks. [6] 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.) [7] 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 . [8] 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). [9] 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 play a role in the formation of ozone and smog. VOCs are also released by tobacco smoke and wildfires. [10] Particulates : There are many different kinds of particulates, from black soot in diesel exhaust to dust and organic matter from the desert. Airborne liquid droplets from farm pollution also count as particulates. Particulates of different sizes are often referred to by the letters PM followed by a number, so PM 10 means soot particles of less than 10 microns (10 millionths of a meter or 10µm in diameter, roughly 10 times thinner than a thick human hair). The smaller ("finer") the particulates, the deeper they travel into our lungs and the more dangerous they are. PM 2.5 particulates are much more dangerous (they're less than 2.5 millionths of a meter or about 40 times thinner than a typical hair). In cities, most particulates come from traffic fumes. [11] 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 ). In the stratosphere (upper atmosphere), a band of ozone ("the ozone layer") protects us by screening out harmful ultraviolet radiation (high-energy blue light) beaming down from the Sun. At ground level, it's a toxic pollutant that can damage health. It forms when sunlight strikes a cocktail of other pollution and is a key ingredient of smog (see box below). [12] Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) : Once thought to be harmless, these gases were widely used in refrigerators and aerosol cans until it was discovered that they damaged Earth's ozone layer. We discuss this in more detail down below. [13] Unburned hydrocarbons : Petroleum and other fuels are made of organic compounds based on chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. When they burn properly, they're completely converted into harmless carbon dioxide and water ; when they burn incompletely, they can release carbon monoxide or float into the air in their unburned form, contributing to smog. Lead and heavy metals : Lead and other toxic "heavy metals" can be spread into the air either as toxic compounds or as aerosols (when solids or liquids are dispersed through gases and carried through the air by them) in such things as exhaust fumes and the fly ash (contaminated waste dust) from incinerator smokestacks. [14] What are the causes of air pollution?

Photo: Even in the age of electric cars, traffic remains a major cause of air pollution. Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy of US DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) (NREL photo id#46361).

Photo: Brown smog lingers over Denver, Colorado. Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy of US DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) (NREL photo id#56919).

Chart: Most of the world's major cities routinely exceed World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution guidelines, though progress is being made: you can see that the 2022 figures (green) show a marked improvement on the 2016 ones (orange) in almost every case. This chart compares annual mean PM 2.5 levels in 12 representative cities around the world with the recently revised (2021) WHO guideline value of 5μg per cubic meter (dotted line). PM 2.5 particulates are those smaller than 2.5 microns and believed to be most closely linked with adverse health effects. For more about this chart and the data sources used, see note [22] .

Photo: Smokestacks billowing pollution over Moscow, Russia in 1994. Factory pollution is much less of a problem than it used to be in the world's "richer" countries—partly because a lot of their industry has been exported to nations such as China, India, and Mexico. Photo by Roger Taylor courtesy of US DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) .

What effects does air pollution have?

Photo: Air pollution can cause a variety of lung diseases and other respiratory problems. This chest X ray shows a lung disease called emphysema in the patient's left lung. A variety of things can cause it, including smoking and exposure to air pollution. Photo courtesy of National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and National Institutes of Health.

" In 2016, 91% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met." World Health Organization , 2018

Photo: For many years, the stonework on the Parthenon in Athens, Greece has been blackened by particulates from traffic pollution, but other sources of pollution, such as wood-burning stoves, are increasingly significant. Photo by Michael M. Reddy courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey .

How air pollution works on different scales

Indoor air pollution.

Photo: Air freshener—or air polluter?

Further reading

Acid rain—a closer look.

Photo: Acid rain can turn lakes so acidic that fish no longer survive. Picture courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Public Affairs. Why does that matter? Pure water is neither acidic nor alkaline but completely neutral (we say it has an acidity level or pH of 7.0). Ordinary rainwater is a little bit more acidic than this with about the same acidity as bananas (roughly pH 5.5), but if rain falls through sulfur dioxide pollution it can turn much more acidic (with a pH of 4.5 or lower, which is the same acidity as orange or lemon juice). 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 6.5–7.0). Once the acidity drops below about pH 6.0, fish soon start to die—and if the pH drops to about 4.0 or less, all the fish will be killed. 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 1980s and 1990s. [18] Acid rain was a particular problem in the last 30–40 years of the 20th century. Thanks to the decline in coal-fired power plants, and the sulfur dioxide they spewed out, it's less of a problem for western countries today. But it's still a big issue in places like India, where coal remains a major source of energy. Global air pollution 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). Global warming 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 . Ozone holes

How can we solve the problem of air pollution?

Photo: Pollution solution: an electrostatic smoke precipitator helps to prevent air pollution from this smokestack at the McNeil biomass power plant in Burlington, VT. Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy of US DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

What can you do to help reduce air pollution?

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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  • Climate change and global warming
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Breathless by Chris Woodford paperback book cover rendered as dummy book.

  • Breathless: Why Air Pollution Matters—and How it Affects You by Chris Woodford. Icon, 2021. My new book explores the problem in much more depth than I've been able to go into here. You can also read a bonus chapter called Angels with dirty faces: How air pollution blackens our buildings and monuments .
  • The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution and How We Can Fight Back by Gary Fuller. Melville House, 2018.
  • Reducing Pollution and Waste by Jen Green. Raintree/Capstone, 2011. A 48-page introduction for ages 9–12. The emphasis here is on getting children to think about pollution: where it comes from, who makes it, and who should solve the problem.
  • Pollution Crisis by Russ Parker. Rosen, 2009. A 32-page guide for ages 8–10. It starts with a global survey of the problem; looks at air, water, and land pollution; then considers how we all need to be part of the solution.
  • Earth Matters by Lynn Dicks et al. Dorling Kindersley, 2008. This isn't specifically about pollution. Instead, it explores how a range of different environmental problems are testing life to the limit in the planet's major biomes (oceans, forests, and so on). I wrote the section of this book that covers the polar regions.
  • State of Global Air : One of the best sources of global air pollution data.
  • American Lung Association: State of the Air Report : A good source of data about the United States.
  • European Environment Agency: Air quality in Europe : A definitive overview of the situation in the European countries.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) Ambient (outdoor) air pollution in cities database : A spreadsheet of pollution data for most major cities in the world (a little out of date, but a new version is expected soon).
  • Our World in Data : Accessible guides to global data from Oxford University.
  • The New York Times Topics: Air Pollution
  • The Guardian: Pollution
  • Wired: Pollution
  • 'Invisible killer': fossil fuels caused 8.7m deaths globally in 2018, research finds by Oliver Milman. The Guardian, February 9, 2021. Pollution of various kinds causes something like one in five of all deaths.
  • Millions of masks distributed to students in 'gas chamber' Delhi : BBC News, 1 November 2019.
  • 90% of world's children are breathing toxic air, WHO study finds by Matthew Taylor. The Guardian, October 29, 2018. The air pollution affecting billions of children could continue to harm their health throughout their lives.
  • Pollution May Dim Thinking Skills, Study in China Suggests by Mike Ives. The New York Times, August 29, 2018. Long-term exposure to air pollution seems to cause a decline in cognitive skills.
  • Global pollution kills 9m a year and threatens 'survival of human societies' by Damian Carrington. The Guardian, October 19, 2017. Air, water, and land pollution kill millions, cost trillions, and threaten the very survival of humankind, a new study reveals.
  • India's Air Pollution Rivals China's as World's Deadliest by Geeta Anand. The New York Times, February 14, 2017. High levels of pollution could be killing 1.1 million Indians each year.
  • More Than 9 in 10 People Breathe Bad Air, WHO Study Says by Mike Ives. The New York Times, September 27, 2016. New WHO figures suggest the vast majority of us are compromising our health by breathing bad air.
  • Study Links 6.5 Million Deaths Each Year to Air Pollution by Stanley Reed. The New York Times, June 26, 2016. Air pollution deaths are far greater than previously supposed according to a new study by the International Energy Agency.
  • UK air pollution 'linked to 40,000 early deaths a year' by Michelle Roberts, BBC News, February 23, 2016. Diesel engines, cigarette smoke, and even air fresheners are among the causes of premature death from air pollution.
  • This Wearable Detects Pollution to Build Air Quality Maps in Real Time by Davey Alba. Wired, November 19, 2014. A wearable pollution gadget lets people track their exposure to air pollution through a smartphone app.
  • Air pollution and public health: emerging hazards and improved understanding of risk by Frank J. Kelly and Julia C. Fussell, Environmental Geochemistry and Health, 2015
  • Health effects of fine particulate air pollution: lines that connect by C.A. Pope and D.W. Dockery. Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association, 2006
  • Ambient and household air pollution: complex triggers of disease by Stephen A. Farmer et al, Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol, 2014

Text copyright © Chris Woodford 2010, 2022. All rights reserved. Full copyright notice and terms of use .

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Essay on Pollution for Students and Children

500+ words essay on pollution.

Pollution is a term which even kids are aware of these days. It has become so common that almost everyone acknowledges the fact that pollution is rising continuously. The term ‘pollution’ means the manifestation of any unsolicited foreign substance in something. When we talk about pollution on earth, we refer to the contamination that is happening of the natural resources by various pollutants . All this is mainly caused by human activities which harm the environment in ways more than one. Therefore, an urgent need has arisen to tackle this issue straightaway. That is to say, pollution is damaging our earth severely and we need to realize its effects and prevent this damage. In this essay on pollution, we will see what are the effects of pollution and how to reduce it.

essay on pollution

Effects of Pollution

Pollution affects the quality of life more than one can imagine. It works in mysterious ways, sometimes which cannot be seen by the naked eye. However, it is very much present in the environment. For instance, you might not be able to see the natural gases present in the air, but they are still there. Similarly, the pollutants which are messing up the air and increasing the levels of carbon dioxide is very dangerous for humans. Increased level of carbon dioxide will lead to global warming .

Further, the water is polluted in the name of industrial development, religious practices and more will cause a shortage of drinking water. Without water, human life is not possible. Moreover, the way waste is dumped on the land eventually ends up in the soil and turns toxic. If land pollution keeps on happening at this rate, we won’t have fertile soil to grow our crops on. Therefore, serious measures must be taken to reduce pollution to the core.

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Types of Pollution

  • Air Pollution
  • Water Pollution
  • Soil Pollution

How to Reduce Pollution?

After learning the harmful effects of pollution, one must get on the task of preventing or reducing pollution as soon as possible. To reduce air pollution, people should take public transport or carpool to reduce vehicular smoke. While it may be hard, avoiding firecrackers at festivals and celebrations can also cut down on air and noise pollution. Above all, we must adopt the habit of recycling. All the used plastic ends up in the oceans and land, which pollutes them.

essay on air pollution and its impact

So, remember to not dispose of them off after use, rather reuse them as long as you can. We must also encourage everyone to plant more trees which will absorb the harmful gases and make the air cleaner. When talking on a bigger level, the government must limit the usage of fertilizers to maintain the soil’s fertility. In addition, industries must be banned from dumping their waste into oceans and rivers, causing water pollution.

To sum it up, all types of pollution is hazardous and comes with grave consequences. Everyone must take a step towards change ranging from individuals to the industries. As tackling this problem calls for a joint effort, so we must join hands now. Moreover, the innocent lives of animals are being lost because of such human activities. So, all of us must take a stand and become a voice for the unheard in order to make this earth pollution-free.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

FAQs on Pollution

Q.1 What are the effects of pollution?

A.1 Pollution essentially affects the quality of human life. It degrades almost everything from the water we drink to the air we breathe. It damages the natural resources needed for a healthy life.

Q.2 How can one reduce pollution?

A.2 We must take individual steps to reduce pollution. People should decompose their waster mindfully, they should plant more trees. Further, one must always recycle what they can and make the earth greener.

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The cleanest air in the world is at Tasmania's Kennaook/Cape Grim. It's helping solve a climate puzzle

When the "roaring forties" blow in from the Southern Ocean, Jamie Oliver knows he's in for a rough time.

"Sometimes in the winter, when it gets wet and cold for days and days, you get a bit sick of it," the 55-year-old beef farmer admits.

But Mr Oliver, who's lived on Tasmania's north-west coast since he was a teenager, wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"It's a magnificent place," he said.

"The air, I don't know if it's just me, but it's so crisp and clean. And you feel like you can breathe it properly."

His assessment about the region's air quality is backed up by decades of science.

A man standing in front of a buggy

Twenty-five kilometres up the coast from his property is one of the world's three "premier" stations that monitor baseline air pollution.

Established in 1976, the Kennaook/Cape Grim facility can accurately measure changes in the global atmosphere without the interference of local contamination.

"Air here under baseline conditions is very, very clean," CSIRO atmospheric scientist Melita Keywood said.

"It's 1,000 times cleaner in terms of the number of particles than we would measure in Melbourne, for example – and that's Melbourne on a good day."

Kennaook_Cape Grim baseline air monitoring station in Tasmania 2024-04-22 10:04:00

Air archive reflects human impact on global atmosphere

On a rooftop deck overlooking the rugged coastline, the facility's officer-in-charge, Sarah Prior, is checking the direction of the wind.

When it comes from the west or south-west, it's travelled thousands of kilometres across the Southern Ocean, avoiding the smog and dust of cities or landmasses.

"At that time … we are measuring the lowest levels of pollution that you'll see," Ms Prior said.

Scientists at Kennaook/Cape Grim describe it as "baseline" air — the cleanest on the planet.

A woman standing on a deck overlooking the ocean

Once it's captured, the air is siphoned into a laboratory where high-tech machines analyse its chemical and physical properties.

"In a nutshell, we measure our greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances," Ms Prior said.

"We also measure the aerosols and reactive gases, and we measure radon as well."

Cape Grim air measuring station

Air quality readings taken over 50 years

For almost five decades, the station has been pivotal in tracking the impact of human activity on the atmosphere.

When the first readings were taken at Kennaook/Cape Grim, carbon dioxide levels were just below 330 parts per million.

These days they are at more than 417 parts per million, an increase of almost 25 per cent since the 1970s.

"The record here is showing that we are having an influence on the CO2 in the atmosphere, which is contributing to climate warming," Dr Keywood said.

Equipment at Kennaook_Cape Grim 2024-04-22 10:04:00

The increase in carbon dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases and chemicals, is reflected in Kennaook/Cape Grim's "archive" of air.

Every two months, staff at the facility don protective gear to cryogenically fill a high-pressure tank with thousands of litres of baseline air.

It's a process that's been undertaken since 1978, with about 250 canisters now held in the air archive at a CSIRO facility in Melbourne.

"By filling multiple cylinders per year over many years, we can go back and actually analyse old air when we get new instrumental techniques," Paul Krummel, from CSIRO's greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substances program, said.

A man stands in front of air tanks

Climate project tries to unravel cloud mystery

While scientists have a clear picture of the past, the computations used to forecast future atmospheric changes are far less precise.

It is the reason Kennaook/Cape Grim is now hosting an important international climate project known as "CAPE-K".

CAPE-K stands for Cloud and Precipitation Experiment at Kennaook.

It is a collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and US Department of Energy.

"Whenever we talk about climate change and climate models, and predicting future climate, there's always this element of uncertainty," the Department of Energy's Heath Powers said.

"And almost all of that uncertainty in climate models has to do with our ability — or our lack of ability — to represent clouds very, very well."

Equipment at Kennaook_Cape Grim 2024-04-22 10:04:00

Most climate models assume that when clouds form in freezing conditions, ice crystals develop inside them.

But for the ice to form, there usually needs to be dust or pollution in the air — something that's not prevalent over the Southern Ocean.

The purity of the air is the reason why many of the clouds in the Southern Ocean remain in a "super-cooled liquid" state, even when the temperature falls below zero degrees Celsius.

A graphic of the impact of ice clouds and liquid clouds on sunlight refraction.

These liquid clouds reflect more sunlight back into space than ice clouds, which means less heat is absorbed by the ocean.

But this phenomenon is not accurately incorporated into current climate calculations.

"To make these predictions much better, we need to go out and measure the types of clouds that we're trying to represent," Mr Powers said.

Heath Powers at the Kennaook_Cape Grime baseline air monitoring station 2024-04-22 10:04:00

Contribution to climate modelling

Mr Powers and his team have set up dozens of sophisticated instruments at Kennaook/Cape Grim to analyse how liquid clouds are formed, and how they affect the climate.

"The thickness of clouds, the brightness of clouds, how much they rain, the size of the rain droplets that come out — these are all impacted by what [the clouds] are made out of," he said.

"And human pollution sources versus really, really pristine clouds — like we have here — behave differently, and they impact our climate differently."

The CAPE-K project will run until the end of 2025, providing vital new data to climate scientists around the world.

"One of the most important tools we have to be able to understand how we can mitigate and adapt to a changing climate will be these climate models," Dr Keywood said.

"So if we get them absolutely right, then we've got a lot more confidence that the actions that we're going to need to take are informed by the best available data."

A man stands in front of air tanks

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