How does the air get polluted?

In this blog post, we will discuss “How does the air get polluted?” Firstly, the article will cover the meaning of air pollution. Then, it will discuss the types in brief and causes of air pollution in depth. Additionally, the article will also outline the instruments used to measure air pollution. In the end, the article will provide the solutions to improve the air quality.

How does the air get polluted?

Air gets polluted primarily due to natural and human activities. The negative impacts of polluted air are as follows:

  • Respiratory Ailments
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Weak Immunity System
  • Mental Disorders

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is the introduction of toxic contaminants in the atmosphere. These contaminants can be solid particles, gaseous pollutants or liquid droplets.

Air pollution has shaken the balance of our ecosystem. 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.

The ever-growing menace of air pollution has also created other challenges such as global warming, greenhouse effect and climate change. These challenges have affected the whole world greatly.

What are the types of air pollution?

There are two types of air pollution- indoor air pollution and outdoor air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) says ambient or outdoor air pollution from the urban and rural areas caused around 4.2 million premature deaths per year in 2016. The main reason for such statistics is the contact of fine particulate matter of 2.5 microns (PM2.5).

This pollutant mainly causes health effects such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory ailments and cancers. As the name suggests, outdoor air pollution is the air pollution occurring in the outdoor environment. However, there is quite a disparity in terms of air pollution. People of low and middle-income countries are most exposed to outdoor air pollution, says the WHO.

Indoor air pollution is the type of air pollution that is created inside any closed structure. According to WHO, 3.8 million deaths happen every year due to household exposure to smoke from improper cookstoves and fuels. Indoor air pollution is produced due to the combustion of fossil fuels. Indoor air pollution also contributes to outdoor ones. Again, indoor air pollution affects unequally in the demography. Socio-economically backward communities are most affected due to such types of pollution. Air pollution due to indoor activities has caused 7.7% of mortality all over the world.

The examples of indoor and outdoor air pollution are as follows:

Indoor Air PollutionOutdoor Air Pollution
Household activities Perfumes and fresheners Cooking fuel/activitiesCigarette Radon Poor ventilation Uncleaned furniture Pets AsbestosTransportationCombustion of fossil fuel Cooking activitiesEnergy generation and consumptionAgriculture  Improper Solid Waste ManagementIndustries and factoriesHousehold pollutionCelebrationsConstruction and demolition

What causes 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. Such types of pollution occurred due to human activities are called anthropogenic or man-made pollution.

Besides man-made air pollution, some of the natural events can also make air polluted. It’s called natural air pollution. Examples of natural air pollution are volcanic eruptions and dust storms. Do you know that even trees and plants can disperse pollen and wax compounds in the air? Such type of pollutants is called allergens and pollens.

 I have not mentioned wildfire in the above list. It’s because both- humans and nature cause wildfires. While intense heatwaves can cause wildfires, cigarette butts, burning of wastes or bonfires unattended can trigger a wildfire.

So, the air you breathe in contains not only oxygen but also includes:

  • oxides of sulphur and nitrogen,
  • greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide,
  • nitrous oxide and fluorocarbons,
  • particulate matters like soot, ash, black and brown carbon
  • Irritants and allergens like pollens
  • Bacteria and virus

The above mentioned particulate matters are also referred to as aerosols by toxicologists. They can be ultrafine, fine or coarse in shape. In the field of air science, it’s referred to as PM2.5 or PM10. 2.5 and 10 signify the size of the matter; they are even smaller than the diameter of the human hair strand.

These particulate matters originate from various sources. NASA Earth observatory said that 90% of the particulates are derived from nature. For instance, volcanoes discharge vast piles of ash, sulphates and sulphur dioxide gases. In addition, forest fires produce particulate pollution containing organic carbon. This is so interesting; NASA Earth Observatory said that certain plants generate gases that combine with other substances in the air to produce particulate matter like smoke in the Great Smoky Mountains of the United States. Additionally, some types of microalgae generate sulphurous gas called dimethylsulphide, which transforms sulphates in the atmosphere.

Further, the remaining particulates or aerosols come from human activities. Even if humans produce less of them than nature, they dominate the atmosphere due to their chemical composition. Combustion of fossil fuels emits tremendous amounts of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulates. The burning of plastic produces dioxins and furans, which are lethal to the environment. Among infinite sources of air pollution, mining, energy sectors, transportation, fireplaces, etc., contributes to air pollution.

Many factors influence the concentration of air pollution. Meteorological conditions such as sunlight, winds and rains can affect the intensity of air pollution too. For example, more incredible wind speeds can disperse air pollution to another distant region. In contrast, calmer and less wind speed and the high intensity of the sunlight can cause a build-up of pollutants such as ozone. Accumulation of ozone can thus cause smog-like conditions. Atmospheric ozone is good to us as it blocks harmful UVB rays from the sun. Ground-level ozone is produced when sunlight combines with nitrogen oxides and oxygen.

Geographical conditions also help the weather to change the weather quality. For example, coastal states with vast open areas get more wind speeds, and thus air quality in such regions gets improved. However, a coastal area clubbed with mountainous terrain like Los Angeles city can experience photochemical smog conditions.

The wind direction also impacts air pollution. Wind directions can turn favourable to one part of the area and damage to the other part. For instance, The East Coast is a hub of human-made of urban pollution. Various coal power plants and vehicular traffic from cities such as New York produce black and organic carbon plumes. However, the West part of the United States is clear; the wind speed and direction can transport the east part’s air pollution to the western side. The local air pollution and the transported ones from the wildfires and industries make the Los Angeles Basin.

The atmospheric pressure can affect the intensity of air pollution. During the high-pressure system, the airspeed lowers and creates stagnant air conditions. In comparison, low atmospheric pressure causes more precipitation and more wind conditions. As a result, this causes washing off and dispersion of the air pollutants.

This, in turn, affects the climate system of the Earth. Air pollution has affected the three major climate zones. Various toxic air pollutants which get dispersed to the poles stimulate cloud formation. They further act as a blanket and warm the ice caps of the Earth. As a result, the ice starts melting from these regions and increases the sea level. This increase in the water level poses a significant threat to the coastal areas and island nations. Industrial sulphate emissions from Europe and North America delays the regular monsoon pattern in the region. This causes intense heatwaves and prolonged droughts. Such conditions cause wildfires and sand storms.

The largest forest in the world, the Amazons, are the world’s green purifiers. They absorb lots of air impurities and pollution and prevents the human race and animal kingdom from illnesses. However, deforestation of such areas is inviting all kinds of diseases and environmental challenges. Air pollution from various sources deteriorates human health. The impacts of air pollution on human health are as follows:

  • Respiratory ailments: COPD, asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, common cold and cough, throat infection, lung cancer, chest congestion, sinus congestion, etc. 
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Heart attack, cardiac arrest, chest pain, heart blockage, stroke, etc. 
  • Mental disorders: Anxiety, insomnia, depression, low productivity, irritation, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, brain stroke, paralysis, etc.

The other effects of air pollution are low sperm counts, low reproductive ability, infertility and congenital infant disabilities.

 How is air pollution measured?

The US EPA monitors the air quality which we all breathe in. In addition, monitoring stations are set up at designated areas to measure ground-level air pollution. The Air Quality Index or AQI generated from these stations are then informed by the relevant authorities to make the citizens aware of the pollution levels. Apart from US EPA, WHO has also set up some guidelines for the permissible limits of air pollutants. 

WHO has suggested some revised guidelines on 22 September 2021 to improve the overall air quality. This organization has decided to implement permissible limits of the earlier significant pollutants.

These permissible limits of ambient air quality are as follows:

PollutantsHourly mean concentration (ug/m-3)Annual mean concentration (ug/m-3)
PM2.5155
PM104515
NO22510
SO240
CO4
O38 hour: 100Peak season: 60

What are the AQIs set up in the USA?

WHO has set up the air quality guidelines to regulate the emissions; however, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has calculated its own AQI to safeguard the public health of Americans. 

Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has determined the air quality index (AQI) to know the air quality you inhale. The table given below will show how the air quality index looks like.

Air Quality Index (AQI)Levels of Health Concern
(When the AQI is in this range)(air quality conditions are)
0 to 50Good           
51 to 100Moderate
101 to 150Unhealthy for Sensitive group
151 to 200Unhealthy
201 to 300Very Unhealthy
301 to 500Hazardous

The primary purpose of AQI is to inform residents about the impact of local air quality on their health. The Environment Protection Agency calculates the AQI for five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

The meaning of the Air quality index as mentioned earlier categories are as follows:

Meaning
Air quality is considered satisfactory; air pollution is of little or no risk.
Air quality is acceptable; some pollutants present in the air might be dangerous for a minority of people who are very sensitive to air pollution.
Members of sensitive groups may get ill effects. However, the general public is likely not to get affected.
This air quality level can pose a threat to everyone. However, members of sensitive people may experience more severe effects.
Emergency level of air quality; Entire population might be affected
Health alert: Every person breathing such air quality may get serious health issues.

 Thus, it is clear that excluding the first two levels is relatively good to venture out and to do various outdoor activities. However, the last three levels will give you or other adverse effects by inhaling dirty air. 

  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

What are the solutions to lessen air pollution?

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

How does sunlight affect air quality?

How does pollution affect the rain?

How Does Pollution affect the Earth?

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “How does the air get polluted?” Firstly, the article covered the meaning of air pollution. Then, it debated the types in brief and causes of air pollution in depth. Additionally, the article also outlined the instruments used to measure air pollution. In the end, the article provided the solutions to improve the air quality.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How does the air get polluted?

How does the air get polluted?

Air pollution can occur in multiple ways. Human activities such as the transportation sector, industrial processes, and combustion of fossil fuels generate particulates and other toxic gases such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides. Natural events also create air pollution. Some of the instances are volcanic eruptions and dust storms.

What are the causes of air pollution?

The causes of air pollution are as follows:

  • The burning of fossil fuels
  • Indoor Air pollution
  • Wildfires
  • Decomposition
  • Vehicular pollution
  • Construction and demolition activities

Which produces the most pollution?

The burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation is the most produced pollution. These activities are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. GHG emissions from the transportation sector come from cars, trucks, ships, trains and aeroplanes.

Which country is carbon negative?

Bhutan country is the only country in the world to become carbon negative.

Which country has the highest and least emissions?

China has the highest emissions; they are the most significant contributor of CO2 emissions. In contrast, Tuvalu country is with the lowest carbon footprint in the world. They continue to be in such a state by avoiding the use of fossil fuels.

Who leads the world in air pollution?

China leads the world in air pollution. The United States and India follow this.

References

Air Pollution. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1

Household air pollution data. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/themes/air-pollution/household-air-pollution  

Mackenzie , J. & Turrentine, J., 2021. Air pollution: Everything you need to know. NRDC. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/air-pollution-everything-you-need-know  

National Geographic Society, 2012. Air Pollution. National Geographic Society. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/air-pollution/  

What causes air pollution? NASA. Available at: https://climatekids.nasa.gov/air-pollution/  

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