The below article talks about air pollution, the possible solutions we would need to move towards to, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality, air pollution, and mitigation strategies for the same.
Are there solutions for air pollution?
Yes, there are several solutions to air pollution. They all rest on the foundations of making environment-friendly and sustainable activities integrated into our daily lives and activities. Some of these solutions include: using renewable and clean sources of energy, producing clean sources of energy, energy conservation activities, increasing energy efficiency, integrating into modes of eco-friendly transport systems, creating green infrastructures, etc.
Air pollution refers to the combination of the air quality from any physical, chemical, or biological component that has the capability to alter the natural properties of the atmosphere around us. There are varying sources of air pollution such as the burning of fossil fuels, burning of waste, factory emissions, environmental disasters such as wildfires, etc. Airborne pollutants come under 5 categories, namely:
- Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10)
- Carbon monoxide
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Sulfur dioxide
Air pollution has severe impacts on human health and can lead to acute and chronic diseases from skin irritations or cardiovascular diseases and cancer. WHO estimates that every year, approximately 7 million people die from effects as a result of air pollution, and has reported that almost 99% of the world’s population lives in areas that exceed that global guidelines for air quality; especially low and middle-income developing countries. Air pollution has been an increasing threat to humanity and the environment since the industrial revolution, and the world governments and global communities have been trying to enforce varying kinds of strategies to address these issues.
WHO estimates that 4.2 million deaths every year can be directly attributed to after-effects of prolonged exposure to poor outdoor air quality and 3.8 million deaths every year occur just from household exposure to poor energy sources from dirty fuels and cookstoves (WHO, n.d.).
Air Pollutants and their Sources
Air pollutants can be classified as being primary or secondary pollutants.
Primary pollutants are those that are directly emitted into the atmosphere. Air pollutants can have mixed sources of origin such as natural pollutants, anthropogenic pollutants, or a mix of these both. Some of the primary pollutants include particulate matter, carbon forms, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, forms of ammonia, carbon monoxide, methane, volatile organic compounds such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Examples of secondary pollutants include particulate matter such as Ozone (O3), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and several other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The most important of them are Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and NOx, NH3, etc.
Primary and secondary sources of air pollutants are diverse in nature and can be as a result of various activities such as:
- Burning fossil fuel for energy through power plants, for transportation, industrial processes, household usages, etc.
- Industrial and factorial activities such as mass production of several items, especially highly chemical products such as cleaning agents, or using extremely corrosive chemicals in the processes involved to manufacture their items.
- Agricultural emissions such as from pesticides, burning of agricultural waste, usage of farming equipment, etc.
- Waste or sewage treatment processes that use several kinds of chemicals and chemical processes
- Environmental sources such as volcanoes, certain trees or plants, pollutants being blown into certain regions due to winds/ cyclones, emissions from wildfires, etc.
Addressing poor air quality requires that we have a framework that takes a multi-pronged approach towards ensuring a decent cut in global emissions. However, ensuring the reduction of global emissions isn’t enough, as it is also important that we monitor the concentrations of each pollutant as well. There are various influential elements that control air quality and air pollution, and each of these has lasting impacts in several facets of our daily lives from health to the everyday weather.
Source: EEA, 2013
Above is a quick-to-understand visual representation of air pollutants and their sources, released from the European Environment Agency.
Solutions for Air Pollution
- Using public transport systems would drastically reduce vehicular emissions every year, as well as reduce the demand for fossil fuel and the carbon footprint we contribute towards. It could also be a cost-effective way of traveling that is sustainable in the long run.
- Using electric vehicles is the next best thing in terms of new modes of transportation. It is a largely taken up option amongst citizens globally, as it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
- Electricity is attained by burning fossil fuels in power plants. Saving electricity could mean that we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for the same. Switching over to energy-saving devices or mechanisms such as fluorescent lightbulbs could reduce the amount of electricity required.
- Switching over to energy-efficient methods of living, and promoting reusing and recycling to conserve resources and energy. This would largely cut down on global emissions that are put out into the atmosphere due to large-scale manufacturing companies. Recycling also uses lesser power, in comparison to creating products from scratch.
- There are over 6000 items that can be made using petroleum, boycotting these items and choosing environment-friendly options, and creating a global demand for the latter options would reduce the global emissions as a result of making unsustainable and harmful products. Therefore, we must work towards avoiding fossil fuels and their products in our everyday lives from plastic bags, solvents, bicycle tires, trash bags, ballpoint pens to golf balls, fertilizers, and rubber cement. This list from Ranken Energy Corporation lists some common items made using petroleum.
- Enforcing strict regulatory frameworks for major polluters globally. Especially, so that they would need to implement measures to monitor and control their emissions. Some of these frameworks could include that they switch to cleaner sources of energy, using electric devices that can be attached to their chimneys to trap major pollutants from emissions, reducing their daily activities, sourcing their raw materials from responsible sources, making changes to their logistics structure, etc.
- Enforce the polluter pays principle in every country so that the major polluters also pay to mitigate the risks and vulnerabilities they create due to their ignorance.
- Global agencies such as the UNEP or the UNFCCC, need to apply pressure on national and global systems to adhere to their global commitments for climate change and climate empowerment. They should be tracking effectively and efficiently through various strategies to monitor climate ambition, action, and those actually enforced.
- Carbon sinks around the world are responsible for absorbing approximately 30% of global emissions, increasing forests and the number of trees would increase the capacity of the planet to absorb harmful emissions. Therefore, afforestation is an excellent solution to address air pollution and poor air quality.
- Avoid using highly chemical items such as paints, solvents, lacquers, toxic cleaning agents, etc. that have the capability of emitting toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and have drastic impacts on human health.
- Reduce agricultural emissions by adopting sustainable agricultural practices and taking up environment-friendly measures such as using natural pesticides, avoiding heavy-duty farming equipment, etc.
- Changing fuel sources at a household level to change the dependency on natural resources such as coals, wood, etc. for daily activities.
- Hold your state actors to their national commitments and ensure that there are adequate climate actions being taken to modify the deteriorating environment around you.
- Landfills produce a toxic amount of emissions, mostly methane which is a greenhouse gas. This accelerates global warming and is a major contributor to poor air quality. Waste has to be managed and modified, and this needs to be addressed at the source of these issues: anthropological usage and activity.
- Look for energy-efficient devices with the appropriate gradings and ranks to ensure that any device used is one made in accordance with environmental standards and needs.
- Enforce climate policies and frameworks in global and national systems, and ensure there is enhanced accountability and transparency in its design, and implementation. It is also crucial to effectively and efficiently monitor these policies to identify possible new risks and address them immediately.
- Engage with regional and national community groups to aim towards taking holistic and sustainable climate action, and aim to increase community climate ambition.
- Follow local groups to see where you can contribute towards in terms of being eco-friendly in your day-to-day actions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Are there any solutions to air pollution?
How to protect my health from the effects of poor air quality?
Below are some measures you could take to avoid prolonged exposure to poor air quality:
- Check on the weather and air quality forecast in your area before you make any decisions about going outdoors for any activity that requires staying out for longer periods of time. If pollution levels are high, please stay indoors and take preventative measures to protect yourself.
- Identify the time in your area when the pollution is at its least if you need to go out or exercise outdoors. This ensures that you are not exposed to toxic pollutant concentrations, especially during any activities that require exertion.
- Utilize various tools such as BreezoMeter, AccuWeather, or any other sources for air quality data, and make it a habit to check on the levels of air quality. This would also help to take measures that could reduce the impacts on your health.
- Ensure that you do not expose yourself to toxic fumes such as those from vehicles, industrial activities, waste burning, etc.
- If you live in a wildfire-prone area, ensure that you have mitigation strategies prepared for the occurrence of these wildfires, or that you’re able to evacuate and avoid breathing in these fumes.
- Try to use clean sources of energy at home, and reduce your exposure to emissions from fossil fuels.
- Ensure that you wear a mask if you need to go out during higher pollution periods.
Does wearing a scarf or a damp cloth over my nose and mouth provide the same protection as a mask?
No, there is a wide variety of scarves, fabrics, etc. that claim to protect the user from toxic airborne pollutants. However, these are only mostly effective with respect to avoiding larger droplets or disease-causing particles like droplets from a sneeze or cough. They are not capable of providing the level of filtration and protection as a mask, as these materials will allow through tiny infected aerosol particles and fine/ coarse air pollutants into your respiratory system.
Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.
European Environment Agency (EEA). (2013). Every breath we take: Improving air quality in Europe. EEA Signals 2013. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/air-pollution-sources-1
Ranken Energy Corporation. (n.d.). Products made from petroleum. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.ranken-energy.com/index.php/products-made-from-petroleum/
Roy A., Chandra T., 7 Rathho A. (2020, September 29). Finding Solutions to Air Pollution in India: The Role of Policy, Finance, and Communities. Observer Research Foundation. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.orfonline.org/research/finding-solutions-to-air-pollution-in-india-the-role-of-policy-finance-and-communities-74311/
World Health Organization (WHO). (n.d.). Air Pollution. Viewed on 19-12-2021. https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_2