How does air pollution affect the soil?

In this blog post, we will discuss “How does air pollution affect the soil?” Firstly, we will discuss the basics of air pollution. Then, we will outline the relationship between poor air quality and soil. Additionally, the article also discusses the measures taken to maintain soil health. In the end, the article will provide detailed measures to mitigate air pollution.

How does air pollution affect the soil?

Soil is essential for the proper development of plants and crops. However, different types of pollution can lead to the deterioration of soil. Such degradation of soil is called soil pollution. Soil pollution is caused due to following pollutions:

  • Air Pollution
  • Water Pollution
  • Nutrient Pollution
  • Thermal Pollution

First, let’s see the basics of air pollution.

What is air pollution?

The introduction of harmful agents into the atmosphere is known as air pollution. The toxic agents are known as pollutants. These pollutants are derived from natural and human activities, and they can be chemical or biological.

Major pollutants present in the air are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), NO2, SO2, and CO. Air also has lead, allergens, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Besides climate change, air pollution has become a significant environmental risk to human health. 

What is Outdoor and Indoor pollution?

Air pollution in the outside environment is called outdoor pollution. The examples of outdoor pollution are as follows:

  • Transportation
  • Combustion of fossil fuel
  •  Cooking activities
  • Energy generation and consumption
  • Agriculture
  •  Improper Solid Waste Management
  • Industries and factories
  • Household pollution
  • Celebrations
  • Construction and demolition

Air pollution created inside any closed structure is called indoor pollution. The examples of indoor pollution are as follows:

  • Household activities 
  • Perfumes and fresheners 
  • Cooking fuel/activities
  • Cigarette 
  • Radon 
  • Poor ventilation 
  • Uncleaned furniture 
  • Pets 
  • Asbestos

 There are two leading causes of air pollution- natural pollution (happened due to natural events like dust storms) and anthropogenic pollution (happened due to human activities like combustion of fossil fuels).

Since the stone age, humankind has always strived hard to achieve stability and comfort in their life. Finally, we succeeded, which led to the industrial revolution, followed by urbanization and much-needed changes in the lifestyle. However, in the process of progression, somewhere we left behind the great values of nature, we forgot the support and symbiotic existence of the environment.

While human inventions, no doubt, have always helped us to save our lives, it has also given birth to much inevitable stuff. One such thing is air pollution. Humans have tremendously exploited natural resources such as fossil fuels in the constant chase of becoming the best in every term and during the development of energy and manufacturing sectors. But, unfortunately, such combustion of fossil fuels for various purposes such as transport and energy releases lots of toxic gaseous and solid contaminants such as carbon monoxide, noxious gases and particulate matter. 

The ever-growing menace of air pollution has also created other challenges such as global warming, greenhouse effect and climate change. Moreover, various toxic pollutants released from the combustion of fossil fuels and other natural activities can mess up with the weather pattern. Researchers have observed that such pollutants can affect the rain pattern too.

But do you know that rain patterns can affect soil quality? Let’s find out how.

How can airborne pollutants affect the soil?

In an ecosystem, components such as air, water and soil are intertwined. Therefore, there should be a proper balance to protect the living organisms of the environment. Consequently, it is essential to understand the effects of the other two components to know the impact of air pollution on the soil.

Acid rains are undeniably one of the worst consequences of air pollution. Such types of showers can happen due to natural and man-made air pollution. They release hazardous pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

These toxic contaminants can easily dissolve in the water. When mixed with water, oxygen and other compounds to form the following:

  • Sulfurous oxide
  • Nitric acid
  • Sulfuric acid

These acids can quickly transfer by winds through the atmosphere to other regions. Thus, acid rains can also cause transboundary pollution.

The sources such as factories, combustion of fossil fuels for mobile sources such as cars and other vehicles emit sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides. Natural sources such as volcanic eruptions and vegetation rotting can also generate the same nasty stuff. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) states that the main reason is human-based air pollution.

Acid rain is an acid that appears in many forms, mainly wet deposition and dry deposition. Wet deposition is commonly called acid rain itself. It deposition sulphuric and nitric acids are mixed with rains, fog, smog or hail. A wet deposition requires moisture for the process. Dry deposition occurs without the presence of moisture. As a result, acidic particles and gases lingering in the atmosphere can deposit on the water bodies such as lakes and streams, soil, and the vegetation’s leaves.

Acidic precipitation results in soil degradation. The soil acidic in nature decreases the ability to retain many nutrients such as calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and potassium (K). The agricultural run-off or water on the soil gets absorbed and seeps through the soil. As a result, the aquifers or groundwaters are also gets affected. Due to water, the pollutants and washed off minerals are transported or leached through the soil. This condition makes the soil depleted of essential nutrients.

Besides, these acids can transform into larger particles that can cause danger to human health. The entry of nitric acid on the Earth can disrupt the healthy nitrogen cycle of the ecosystem. The next rains can wash off the accumulated chemicals on the soil and seep into the aquifers and plants. Such a process can disrupt the food web and can cause bioaccumulation.

Further, if any trees and plants are on the verge of dying or dead, it is a prominent indication that they are affected by acid rain. This is because acid rains percolate aluminium from the soil. This percolation can be dangerous to trees and wildlife depend on it. Furthermore, the increased acidity of soil leads to heavy metals like aluminium deployment. In addition, these heavy metals can flow into water bodies. These heavy metals can prove fatal to aquatic life.

On the other hand, the US EPA stated that many forests and water bodies that contact acid rain don’t get much affected. This is because the soil in that area can bear or buffer the acid rain by neutralizing the acidity of the rainwater coming in contact with it. The buffering capacity entirely depends upon the thickness and composition of the soil. Therefore, the type of bedrock also plays a significant role in it.

Another instance is that soil possessing elevated concentrations of calcium carbonate such as limestone and dolomite are more resilient to acid rain. This is because calcium carbonate can chemically neutralize acids. Also, in the mountainous regions of the Northeastern part of the United States, the soil thickness is thin. Therefore, its overall composition cannot sufficiently neutralize the acid in the rainwater. Thus, these areas are particularly susceptible to acid and aluminium accumulation. Such thin soils are also found in high alpine regions. 

However, some soils have lower levels of calcium carbonate that are sensitive to acid deposition. Such conditions are detected on quartzite, gneiss, granite and other metamorphic rock deposits. These are found in the Canadian Shield. Soils are also affected due to persistent organic pollutants (POP). This occurs due to the grasshopper effect. Grasshopper effect is the geochemical process in which certain chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants. These contaminants are transported from warmer regions to colder ones of the Earth. This mainly occurs in polar and mountainous areas. This is of particular concern for the people living in the Arctic region.

Heavy precipitations and the melting of snow can cause a phenomenon known as episodic precipitation. Lakes having a perfect balance of acidity levels can be changed due to melting snow or heavy shower. These additions cause acidic deposition and the inability of the soil to buffer it. These temporary levels of lower PH values can result in short-term stress on the ecosystem, and a variety of plant and animal species can get injured and may face death.

The agriculture and livestock sector is one of the significant contributors to ammonia pollution. This is because many agricultural activities generate nitrogen compounds. From the last 70 years, global ammonia emissions have approximately doubled from 23 to 60 teragrams per year. One telegram equals 1 billion kilograms or 2.2 billion pounds on the metric scale.

Nitrogen is undoubtedly highly beneficial to plant development as it is a crucial plant nutrient. Also, the nutrient cycle is necessary for the proper functioning of nature. However, the overabundance of nitrogen and ammonia can create issues in the ecosystem.

Nitrogen available in animal excreta and over usage of fertilizers can transform this nitrogen into gaseous ammonia. As per recent studies, the agricultural sector in US and Canada contributes to more than three-fourths of all ammonia emissions. Nitrogen compounds produced by agricultural activities affect soil quality. The affected soil structure and composition eventually affect plant productivity. Moreover, atmospheric pollutants significantly impact the plants. Direct exposure to such toxins changes the plant structure and immunity. Such disruption in plants leads to indirect alteration of the PH value of soil.

As mentioned earlier, air pollution fluctuates the climate and weather patterns. This can also cause intense heat waves in many regions of the Earth. Extreme heatwaves cause wildfires and drought conditions. In addition, the burning of forests causes the deposition of particulates and ash on the land. Their amalgamation causes degradation of soil. Also, drought conditions cause cracking of ground. This cracking condition happens due to less moisture content in the soil. Such earth, thus, cannot bear or hold any plants and soil.

What has been done to maintain soil health?

EPA’s Acid Rain Program

Congress has already passed a law known as the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. This passed law emphasized that EPA should start the Acid Rain Program. The program notes to limit the sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Reduction of pollution

Scientists have initiated to urge the use of coal that has less sulphur. Another method that researchers have suggested is to use the washing method on the coals to remove some sulphur. Such washing methods can be done using equipment known as scrubbers. Or else, the use of fossil fuels can be changed into the renewable energy sector.

Reduction of vehicular transport

As cars and other vehicles emit nitrogen and sulphur oxides, car manufacturers should reduce the number of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants produced by vehicles. Equipment known as catalytic convertor helps in reducing such pollutants. Newly built cars can also use natural gas and switch to electric fuels. EPA also gives guidelines.

Below, here are the following measures to mitigate air pollution.

What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

I will elaborate on some of the measures to protect yourself from air pollution.

Personal Hygiene

You can also fight the effects of air pollution by maintaining personal hygiene:

  • You can cut your nails short to avoid the accumulation of dirt. 
  • You can also practice mouth gargling after coming home to free your mouth from unwanted guests.
  • You can also brush twice a day to keep airborne infections at bay.
  • You can also take steam therapy at home to cleanse your lungs.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes, hookahs (shisha), electric vape or any other types of cigars are not at all suitable for your health. It’s best to stop smoking. Active and passive smoking provides the direct entry of harmful pollutants into your body. This causes the risk to your respiration and other organs dependent on it. 

Physical Exercise 

Physical activities have many benefits to your body. It not only improves your stamina and immunity levels but also helps to increase your lung capacity. Yoga, sanas, swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking and dancing are some of the best forms of exercise to improve your health.

Breathing Exercise 

The majority of people in the world don’t breathe properly. However, correct breathing techniques can keep illnesses due to air pollution at bay. A pranayama is a form of yoga asana which helps to improve breathing methods and lung functionality.

Some of the pranayama types that help you fight air pollution are Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, Chandra Nadi, Surya Nadi and Bhastrika. It is strongly recommended to learn this art of breath from a well-certified yoga trainer. 

You can also increase your lung muscles by simply taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of 10. Then, slowly breathe out the air. If you can keep your breath for a longer time, then you have good lungs health.

Good diet 

Always go for a well-balanced diet to remain fit and strong. Consistent eating of junk and fast food will increase the risk of obesity and other diseases. In addition, such people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. Instead, add more fresh veggies and fruits to your diet. Also, you can consume less meat to minimise carbon footprints.

You can also add anti-inflammatory foods as these types of food help to cleanse your lungs effectively. Anti-inflammatory foods which I recommend are: 

Immunity booster drinks

You can do your immunity booster drinks by using readily available items in your kitchen. Immunity booster drinks help to cleanse your lungs. Some of the DIY immunity booster drinks are as follows:

  • Take a glass of warm white milk. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to it. Also, add two strands of saffron to it. Drink it at night before sleeping. You will get good sleep, and you will be relieved from chest congestion. 
  • Boil water by adding half cinnamon stick. Drink the spice-infused water once a day. Your sinuses would be cleared up. 
  • Buy an excellent green tea. Prepare a green tea by following the packet instructions. Have it whenever you feel irritation in your throat. 
  • Take some crushed 1 or 2 peppercorns, a half-inch of a blade of lemongrass and 1 inch of grated ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add everything in one glass of boiling water and reduce it to half a glass. Drink two tablespoons of this spice-infused warm water every after three hours. Adding honey is optional. 
  • You can also drink warm water and add honey if you want. Honey helps to relieve throat irritation.

Use Mask

Mask can prevent you from inhaling the polluted air. You would be able to work in contaminated areas without any fear of allergy infections and stress. 

Masks I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced NanotechnologyUser FriendlyMore Durable Six layers face maskFilter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers mask Flexible nose pad, dual strapsDisposable maskEasy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cotton Skin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filterReusable Mask

How can I individually reduce air pollution?

You can always try your level best to minimise air pollution. The following are the methods to reduce air pollution at an individual level.

Plant Trees

Encourage tree plantation drives amongst the communities. You can be a green saviour of your region. Trees are the natural air purifiers of the environment, and it supplies us with clean air.

Municipal councils or the local authorities can develop urban forests to increase the green cover of the locality. They can also plan to create vertical green walls to improve oxygen levels of the region naturally. But don’t forget to plant only indigenous trees. 

Human/ religious celebrations in eco-friendly ways 

Nowadays, many couples celebrate gender (of their baby) revealing parties by bursting firecrackers. But, unfortunately, these firecrackers can transform into massive wildfires if they are burst near trees.

Thus, you can celebrate such celebrations by planting trees in your nearby barren land. Bursting firecrackers on any religious, festive or personal occasion are only going to harm your loved ones. 

You can also celebrate Christmas by not cutting Christmas Trees. Instead, you can buy artificial ones and use them in the coming years too.

Discourage Plastic

Single-use plastic has been one of the major concerns in the environment. Plastic pollution indirectly contributes to the degradation of air quality. Plastic, when burned, releases various toxic gases such as dioxins into the air.

Encourage alternative use of the plastic product. For example, you can wear a cloth bag for shopping. You can also carry your travel cutlery set to a restaurant. Additionally, you can take your water bottle instead of purchasing a packaged drinking water bottle every time.

Use of public transportation 

Increase the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. You can also try carpooling or the cab sharing option. Then, you can also use bicycles instead of scooters. Lastly, you can always opt for walking a shorter distance. 

Alternative use of fossil fuel

It would be best to try switching to other fuel alternatives. For example, don’t use wood for the fireplace. Instead, you can wear multiple layers of clothes for warmth. In this way, you can conserve energy. Additionally, you can also install solar panels on house roofs to convert solar energy into electricity. 

You can also buy electric and hybrid vehicles to minimise tailpipe emissions. Finally, propose or discuss a plan with your mayor or any relevant local authority to promote your region’s renewable energy sector.

Reduction of personal carbon footprints

You can also keep a check on your carbon footprints. For example, you can delete unwanted photos, videos or emails from clouds and email boxes as and when possible. Unfortunately, this unwanted stuff takes a lot of energy, which indirectly contributes to air pollution.

You can also switch off the lights and electrical appliances of the vacant rooms. Try buying local products instead of imported ones. Be vocal about them. You can also discover your own country rather than travelling to different ones.

Create Awareness

Air pollution is unpredictable; air pollution in your vicinity can affect people living in Asia and vice-a-versa. However, you can create public awareness about air pollution amongst your community by teaching and interacting with your kids about the importance of good air. 

Educate youth by telling them the ill effects of poor air quality. Then, let your country’s future know that they deserve a better place to live!

How can the local authorities improve the air quality of your region?

You can always observe the changes happening in your surrounding nature. If you experience bad air quality or any activities producing air pollution, you can always concern relevant local authorities or the mayor.

Here are some methods which local authorities can do.

Proper disposal of waste 

Improper solid waste management of an area is an invitation to many diseases and infections. In addition, burning solid waste in public can cause air pollution, although such practices are rare in the US. 

The wastes are mainly disposed of in the engineered landfills and recycled before final disposal to landfills and waste incinerators. 

In addition, waste incinerators help to convert waste into energy.

However, many researchers have claimed that gasification technology or waste-to-energy technology may release harmful gaseous contaminants. Thus, it is necessary that waste collectors rigorously segregate the waste before sending it to waste incinerators. 

The best solution is to minimise waste at a personal level. Statistically, 70% of the waste generated can be recycled effectively. Thus, strive to recycle your waste at a personal level as much as possible.

Reducing air pollution from agriculture

Stubble burning is still practised in some parts of the US. This event contributes to the degradation of air. Local authorities can help farmers convert this waste into cattle fodder or be transformed into pellets as fuel. In addition, farmers should stop the usage of harmful pesticides or fertilisers to decrease air pollution.

How can I reduce indoor air pollution?

Maintaining household or indoor hygiene

You can decrease poor air quality by adequately maintaining indoor hygiene. For example, you can frequently clean your cupboards and open decks to avoid an accumulation of dust particles. You can then vacuum your carpets and sofas at least twice a week. 

Make sure your doggies and cats are well-groomed. Use chimneys and exhaust fans in kitchens. You can also install an exhaust fan in washrooms. Always make sure you are keeping your house well ventilated. 

Keep doors and windows open when possible. Maintain the health of electric appliances such as heaters, humidifiers, AC, fans, air ducts and so on at regular intervals of the year. Avoid overuse of strong perfumes or strong scented candles indoors. You can additionally use indoor plants to make your indoors more lively and fresh.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants do the same work as outdoor ones- they help to purify indoor air naturally. These indoor plants are also easy to maintain.

The indoor plants which I recommend are as follows: 

Air purifiers

Air purifiers help to improve indoor air quality. The risk of getting air pollution-related diseases decreases due to the use of air purifiers. Air purifiers having good HEPA filters do an adequate job of filtering pollutants.

Air Purifiers I recommend are as follows:

NameWhy I recommend it
Blueair Pro XL Air Purifier99.7% of airborne pollutants such as mould, allergens, smoke particles and pollens are captured. 
AIRMEGA 400SReduction of 99.97% of particulates of 0.3 microns. Also responsible for reducing more than 99% of VOCs, NH3 and CH3CHO.Washable and permanent pre-filters are available 
Blueair Pure 121Includes 3-part filtration system. Captures 99% of common airborne PM 2.5 pollutants such as allergens, odours, smoke, mould spores, dust mites and pet dander.An activated carbon filter removes common odours caused by smoke, pets, and gases (VOCs) and smoke caused by wildfires.

Humidifiers

The humidity levels in the office should be maintained between 30 and 50% in the office. This range helps to keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. In addition, when AC or heater makes the air in the room dry, humidifiers can maintain correct humidity levels.

Humidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Amazon Basics Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier 4 litre of tank capacityAuto shut-off feature and 12 or 24-hour timer settingsIt can be used in both seasons
MOVTIP HumidifierPortable Mini-humidifier500 ml capacity, still produces longer mistsEasy to operate
LEVOIT HumidifierIt can be used for both seasons6 litres of capacity Easy to clean and has a remote control

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers also work similarly to humidifiers. It controls the high levels of humidity in the office.

Dehumidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Pro Breeze DehumidifierCan extract 50 pints of moisture a dayEnergy-saving auto-off systemBuilt-in Humidity sensor
HOmeLabs DehumidifierEliminates moistness, odour controllerEasy to cleanRemovable water tank
TCL Portable Dehumidifier20 pints of moisture removed per dayIt can be operated at low temperatures tooEasy to maintain

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

Can Poor Air Quality Cause Sinus Issues?

How does air pollution cause acid rain?

How does air pollution affect the economy?

Conclusion

We discussed “How does air pollution affect the soil?” in this blog post. Firstly, we discussed the basics of air pollution. Then, we outlined the relationship between poor air quality and soil. Additionally, the article also discussed the measures taken to maintain soil health. In the end, the article provided detailed efforts to mitigate air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How does air pollution affect the soil?

What are the five disastrous effects of air pollution?

The five disastrous effects of air pollution are:

  • Respiratory and heart ailments in human beings
  • Global Warming
  • Acid Rain
  • Depletion of the ozone layer
  • Food insecurity

What are the primary cause of air pollution and its effect on the environment?

The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of air pollution. Combustion of fossil fuel is needed in the transportation sector, energy generation, and cooking activities. Such activities release a tremendous amount of carbon monoxide and other toxic pollutants into the atmosphere. These contaminants cause harm to human health, hampers flora and fauna growth, and create food insecurity.

What is the effect of air pollution on animals?

The effect of air pollution on animals consist of:

  • Lung damage
  • Heart ailments
  • Inflammation of eyes and other organs
  • Cancer
  • Congenital disabilities

How does air pollution affect crops?

Air pollution affects crops negatively. Pollutants present in the air, such as O3 and NOx, interfere with the plant’s metabolic activities and mess with carbon fixation by the plant canopy.

What effect does air pollution have on food crops and biodiversity?

Pollutants such as sulphur can result in excess acidification of the water bodies such as lakes and streams. This pollutant can also damage trees and fertile land. In addition, the atmospheric nitrogen can create an imbalance in biodiversity and harm overall plant communities and aquatic life. Moreover, ozone can damage the tree leaves.

How does air pollution affect global warming?

Air pollution also releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This contributes to the greenhouse effect. In addition, the carbon dioxide emitted traps a tremendous amount of heat into the atmosphere. This process results in global warming.

Reference

Aerosol pollution may affect rainfall patterns. Down To Earth. Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/aerosol-pollution-may-affect-rainfall-pattern-5567  

Air pollution can prevent rainfall. ScienceDaily. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000314065455.htm

Air pollution ’causes more rain – but also less rain’. edie.net. Available at: https://www.edie.net/news/2/Air-pollution-causes-more-rain—but-also-less-rain/15279/  

What is acid rain, and how is it formed? Sustainability for all. Available at: https://www.activesustainability.com/climate-change/what-is-acid-rain/?_adin=02021864894  

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