Air Pollution caused by Factories

The below article talks about air quality and air pollution, particularly focusing on air pollution caused due to large-scale industries or factories, along with some frequently asked questions about air pollution, air quality, and mitigatory frameworks. 

Should you be concerned about factory emissions?

Factories all around the world play a major role in deciding the air we breathe. Through various activities that have arisen as a consequence of rapid urbanization, factories have been scaling to meet these global demands to fill the needs and make profits. This has caused severe environmental degradation and severe impacts on neighboring surroundings and eventually started contributing to global warming and climate change. It is extremely important to know the role these factories play in our everyday lives, and how it impacts everyone regardless of where these factories may be based. 

Factory Emissions 

Industrial emissions cause large quantities of emissions into the atmosphere including CO (carbon monoxide), hydrocarbons, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), CO2, etc. 58% of air pollution every year can be directly attributed to industrial sites (Phillips P., 2021). Higher quantities of these chemicals and pollutants have been directly linked to global warming, rapid climate change, and environmental degradation. These emissions are also called greenhouse gases and originally, these elements have been proven to absorb heat and radiation, and keep the planet warm; but larger quantities of these gases have caused global temperatures to rise and cause global warming and its other effects as we see every day. Climate change has been accelerated due to the larger quantity of emissions of particulate matter into the atmosphere. Due to their specific physical and chemical characteristics, they have chronic impacts on environmental health, human health, and biodiversity health (Munsif R. et.al., 2021). 

Various factories and power plants are powered through natural resources such as oil, coal, methane gas, etc. These elements are capable of releasing highly toxic emissions that escapes in the environment causing dire consequences to everything and everyone around them. For example, coal has been a reliable source of energy for centuries, from being used to steam engines to being used up to 4 billion tonnes every year just in China to produce electricity. The inherent ability of coal to release large amounts of energy when it is heated makes it a prime candidate for various entities to use it as a powerful source of fuel. However, coal releases various toxins into the air such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and many more could be listed. 

A recently conducted study found that one of the largest emitters causing air pollution is Farm Factories. These factories hold animals that are raised for meat, dairy, eggs, other resources, etc. It has been found that about 10 billion animals in the US are bred for these sole purposes. These farms contribute to 37% of the world’s methane emissions, which has a global warming potential that is 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Burning fossil fuels that contribute towards fertilizers to grow crops for these animals contribute to up to 41 million tons of CO2 and deforestation to meet the needs for these crops and grazing for these animals is estimated to cause an emission of approximately 2.4 billion tons of CO2 every year (DS, 2015). 

Some effects that can be observed as a result of massive factory emissions are as follows:

Global Warming 

Anthropological activities post the Industrial Revolution is a large factor in the rapid environmental degradation that has caused global warming. Toxic chemicals, hazardous agents, and processes incorporated by factories’ activities are released into the atmosphere through solid, liquid, and gas emissions, causing large-scale pollution of air, water, and land. The ability of these chemical compounds to retain heat has caused the planet to overheat causing various kinds of effects such as:

  • Rising sea levels 
  • Rising global temperature 
  • Risk to species extinction: plants and animals 
  • Increase in the number of environmental catastrophes such as wildfires, cyclones, floods, droughts, etc. 
  • Melting of the ice-caps
  • Increased human and wildlife conflict 
  • Threat to the very sustenance of humans and their holistic health

Air Pollution 

Large-scale actors such as extractive industries, manufacturing groups, factories, etc. have played a major role in air pollution over the years. The blatant usage f=of resources by these large-scale actors has left several vulnerable and marginalized communities at risk of several threats and has actively caused much distress to them, as observed in many instances. For example, the case of the Nigerian oil spills or the Bhopal gas tragedy in India. Health impacts on people due to the mindless actions of larger stakeholders have been severe and affect various facets of health in humans, plants, and animals. 

Water Pollution 

Water pollution has been one of the major concerns amongst global organizations, and has put several large scale global and national actors in the spotlight for either not taking enough actions to address the concerns of the citizens, or because they have caused large scale pollution, threatening the very existence of several ecosystems. Illegal dumping of treated and untreated waste liquids by factories has been a major concern, especially since these emissions usually have toxic chemical agents that can have devastating impacts such as cancer or radiation poisoning. Waterways spread these pollutants across various water channels and thus, spread the pollution into the larger population. 

It must be observed that not all factories commit such crimes, however, it is the case for most of them as illegally dumping wastes into the waterways are cheaper than getting them treated and disposing of them effectively and efficiently. 

Land Pollution 

Soil and land pollution is lesser-known amongst stakeholders, however, it is a very common occurrence as chemicals and pollutants can seep into the soil from the waterways, causing barren lands and the extinction of several native species of plants. It also harms any crops that are grown on the land as these chemicals tend to accumulate in the crops and eventually get stored in the human body, causing devastating health impacts. 

Health Implications

Health implications of factory emissions, especially air pollution have been studied across various sectors, in various countries, and have reported the same results that it is extremely dangerous to citizens in the area. WHO reports that approximately 99% of the world’s population lives in areas that exceed the WHO guidelines set for air quality, and large-scale global emitters are part of this reason. Health implications can be long-term or short-term and can range between skin irritations, tissue inflammation, hives, etc. to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), etc. 

Destruction of Wildlife 

We have seen several scenarios where large-scale industries have factories have encroached into forested or protected areas, which leads to the destruction of these fragile ecosystems. From mining natural resources from protected lands to the trafficking of forest goods across the world, there are global actors that actively contribute to the destruction of wildlife. Search for these natural resources takes a toll on the balance of these ecosystems, and increases the human and wildlife conflict, causing animals to venture into the mainland to look for food or shelter, which is a threat to humans and wildlife alike. There are various activities that have led to the destruction of wildlife and have caused a major threat to the extinction of several species. 

How to reduce air pollution from factories?

Many factory and industrial actors are taking steps to address the climate damage they have been causing, and some of their most effective methods are as follows (CMM, n.d.):

  • Optimizing the factory’s activities and daily operations in order to reduce the pollution and emissions from these factories. They have been converting various activities of their factories to be more energy-efficient, or switch to cleaner sources of energy, and take measures to increase energy efficiency. 
  • Destroying toxic pollutants before they enter into the atmosphere by employing various artificial devices that aim to capture these pollutants. There are various kinds of devices that are targeted to remove specific pollutants, as well as those that can remove the large particulate matter. 
    • Using a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) allows for these actors to use higher temperatures to destroy these pollutants before they enter the atmosphere. Some industries try to use the heat produced from their daily activities to achieve the same results whenever they can through mechanisms of highly efficient heat exchanging systems. 
    • Recuperative Thermal Oxidisers or TOs use higher temperatures and heavy-duty steel exchangers to destroy volatile organic compounds and other toxic particles before they are emitted into the environment. 
    • A Catalytic Oxidiser uses a combination of higher temperatures and chemical catalyzing agents to instigate the toxic pollutants and break them down so that they do not cause any harm when emitted into the environment.
    • Oxidizers with rotary concentrators are used in factories that have chemical processing activities, surface coating, wood finishing, etc. and take in large volumes of air with concentrations of pollutants and adsorb these pollutants on a zeolite adsorbent material disc that is continuously rotating at a speed of 2 to 6 revolutions per hour (CPI, n.d.). The oxidizer then lets out this captured air without the pollutants, causing for emission of much lower concentrations of the relevant pollutant. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Do factory emissions contribute to air pollution?

Do I need to check the outdoor air quality before I exercise outdoors?

Yes, it is extremely important to always check the outdoor air quality before any probable prolonged outdoor activity. This ensures that we make informed decisions about limiting our exposure to toxic airborne pollutants and chemicals that could have long-lasting implications on our physical and mental health. Air quality must always be monitored especially when it comes to vulnerable groups of individuals such as senior citizens, individuals with cardiovascular diseases, immunity compromised individuals, kids, individuals diagnosed with respiratory issues, etc. as even short term exposure to certain contaminants could exacerbate their health conditions and trigger new symptoms.  

Who is most susceptible to the effects of poor air quality?

The most susceptible population from the effects of poor air quality are (Spare the air, n.d.):

  • Individuals diagnosed with heart diseases, coronary diseases, or other heart conditions
  • Individuals with compromised respiratory systems, such as those diagnosed with asthma, tuberculosis, COPD, etc.
  • Pregnant individuals
  • Outdoor workers 
  • Senior citizens 
  • Kids under the age of 14 
  • Athletes who train vigorously outdoors 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Air Pollution Theses: Health Edition

How is the air quality in Dubai?

Impacts of Air Pollution on Animals

References 

Catalytic Products International (CPI). (n.d.). Rotary Concentrator. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.cpilink.com/rotary-concentrator 

The CMM Group. (n.d.). How to reduce air pollution from factories and industrial operations. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.thecmmgroup.com/reduce-air-pollution-factories-industrial-operations/ 

DoSomething.org. (2015). 11 facts about factory farms and the environment. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-factory-farms-and-environment  

Field. Org. UK (FOU). (2018). How can factories affect the environment? Environmental News. Viewed on 12-19-2021. http://www.field.org.uk/how-can-factories-affect-the-environment/ 

Munsif R., Zubair M., Aziz A., & Zafar M. N. (2021, January 7). Industrial Air Emission Pollution: Potential Sources and Sustainable Mitigation. Environmental Emissions. IntechOpen. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348329452_Industrial_Air_Emission_Pollution_Potential_Sources_and_Sustainable_Mitigation  

Phillips P. (2021, April 08). Factory Emissions: How factories are impacting the quality of the air we breathe. StoryMaps. ArcGIS. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/7221608f86ae406f802d294a51f690f3 

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