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Tackling Air Pollution

The Earth's atmosphere is a mixture of gases, with nitrogen and oxygen being the most common. When chemicals enter the air and adversely affect the balance of the Earth's atmosphere, the resulting effect is called air pollution. Pollution in the air is a threat to human health and life, as well as the well-being of animals, plants, and the ecosystem in general. Certain types of air pollution can also affect the Earth's ozone layer, leaving the world vulnerable to harmful doses of ultraviolet radiation. Air pollution is caused both by natural events such as volcanic eruptions, and emissions from human-made machines, such as automobiles, aircraft, and factories.

Types of Pollutants

Air pollution negatively alters the natural balance of atmospheric gases, and typically comes in two forms, which are noxious gases and particulate matter. Particulate matter includes soot which comes from burning wood, the use of fossil fuels, as well as forest fires. It also includes heavy metals such as mercury, which comes from coal factories. Volcanoes emit large amounts of particulate matter during eruptions, such as ash and rocks pulverized into fragments too small for the eye to see. These particulates can cause breathing problems and other health issues, and can also damage the ecosystem. Noxious gases released by natural events and human activity include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur, lead, ozone, nitrogen oxide, and methane. These gases can be poisonous to human, animal and plant life, and greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide also contribute to global warming.

Sources of Air Pollution
Air pollution comes from many sources, both human-made and natural. Forest fires have contributed vast amounts of soot into the atmosphere, and erupting volcanoes are the biggest source of natural pollution in the world. Human activities have also contributed to the pollution of the atmosphere. Pollen from trees and other plants are another natural source of pollution which can annoy or even harm humans. Humans contribute to air pollution in a number of ways. Cutting down trees, for instance, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Burning wood, coal and fossil fuels are other forms of air pollution caused by human activities. Factories release pollution through their smoke stacks, and vehicle and aircraft exhaust are also major sources of human-made air pollutants.

Indoor Air Quality
Due to the fact that people within cities spend most of their time indoors, the quality of indoor air has a significant impact on a person's health. Because of issues involving air circulation and duration of exposure, indoor pollution can be as harmful as outdoor air pollution. Sources of indoor air pollution include pollen from plants, smoke from burning tobacco and from cooking, as well as dust and pet dander. Basements may also become a source of radon, which is radioactive gas that is naturally emitted from the earth. All of these problems can be exacerbated by poor indoor air circulation.

Health Effects
There are a wide variety of adverse health effects that come with exposure to air pollution. Air pollution can cause or aggravate almost every known breathing-related health condition, as well as other health problems such as cancer and reproductive issues. Fumes from vehicles, such as nitrogen oxide emissions, are known to cause asthma flare-ups, while indoor and outdoor cigarette smoke can lead to asthma, heart disease and lung cancer. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can be aggravated or even caused by dust, soot and noxious gases. Soot from burning materials can enter the lungs, and this can lead to lung cancer. In addition, soot in the air can aggravate the symptoms of cystic fibrosis for those who already have it. Airborne toxins can affect blood circulation and also harm the heart, leading to cardiovascular problems including heart attacks.

Reducing Air Pollution

There are a variety of ways in which people can reduce the amount of pollution in the air, as well as their exposure to it. During days of heavy smog or when there is a nearby forest fire, it may be necessary to wear a breathing mask. Reducing emissions from automobiles and factories are two ways to cut down on human-made pollution. Other effective methods include switching to public transportation, or driving cars that run on electricity or have high gasoline fuel efficiency. Strict pollution standards for power plants and factories can also reduce the amount of pollution introduced into the air. Nuclear and solar power plants produce no air pollution, compared to coal-fired power plants which are the heaviest sources of industrial pollution. Energy efficiency techniques help reduce the use of energy, which reduces the amount of pollution from fossil fuel-based power plants. Turning yard debris into mulch instead of burning it, is another way to reduce pollution. Planting trees is effective because trees generate oxygen and take carbon dioxide out of the air. Reducing pollution indoors can be achieved by not smoking or quitting smoking, regularly changing air conditioning filters, vacuuming the floors and dusting surfaces, and using HEPA air purifiers to filter out dust and pet dander from indoor air. Wood-burning stoves, even EPA-certified stoves, are a big source of pollution, and replacing them with gas or oil furnace stoves amounts to a major reduction of harmful emissions. Good indoor circulation will also reduce the amount of indoor air pollution.


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