What is point source air pollution?

The below article talks about air pollution, point source air pollution, measures taken to address point sources of air pollution, along with some frequently asked questions about air pollution, air quality, and mitigation strategies.

What is point source air pollution?

A point source of air pollution is any single identifiable source of pollution from which toxic pollutants are discharged, such as pipes, ditches, factory or industry smokestacks, etc. Factories, industrial activities emission outlets, power plants, sewage treatment plants, etc. are some of the common point sources of air pollution. Over the years, various global and national entities have recognized the harmful point sources of pollution can create and have enforced various measures and strategies to address these concerns. 

About point sources of air pollution

The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), defines a point source pollution as 

any single identifiable source of pollution from which pollutants are discharged, such as pipe, ditch, ship or factory smokestack” (NOAA, n.d.). 

The most common point sources of air pollution include factories, industries, treatment plants, power plants, etc. Factories such as oil refineries, pulp and paper mills, large-scale manufacturers of automobiles/ electronics/ chemical agents, etc. are responsible for large quantities of toxic emissions, and these emissions often contain massive concentrations of various harmful pollutants. While some factories treat these emissions to render them harmless before it is emitted, some factories or industries do not, thus causing increased harm to the surrounding habitats and ecosystems. Some stakeholders may even send their wastes to be treated in sewage treatment plants, where often these wastes and human wastes are treated and then let off into water bodies such as streams, rivers, oceans, etc. 

Another method that factories and treatment plants handle waste emission is by mixing these emissions with urban runoff through a combined sewer system. A runoff is referred to the water that runs over any urban surface such as driveways, roads, lawns, etc. As water runs over these different surfaces, it picks up varying kinds of pollutants and dust particles which eventually reach the sewer system, as these runoffs are not usually treated. When it rains excessively, the combined sewer system is not able to usually handle the volume of water, runoff, and raw sewage, due to which there is an overflow of untreated emissions into the nearest water body. This is another form of point source pollution, that can have lasting impacts on humans and health. While the above example is to illustrate point source water pollution, the same idealogy is applied when it comes to understanding point source air pollution. 

Air pollution and air quality

Poor air quality due to increasing pollution is an extensively studied field. The effects of exposure to bad air quality are inevitable and researchers have taken up various measures to identify the different impacts air-borne pollutants could have. Air pollution has been found to impact human health severely and if exposed to it on a long-term basis, it could cause irreversible damage including respiratory conditions and neuro system damages amongst other illnesses. 

Research into air pollution in the top 30 cities in the world shows that Indian cities hold the first 21 positions and that in 2019, approximately 1.67 million deaths were attributed to long-term exposure to poor air quality. The long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution caused heart attacks, chronic lung diseases, strokes, along with neonatal diseases which were accelerated due to the poor air quality (Hadley S., 2020). 

Various countries have taken measures to ensure clean air. For example, cities like Birmingham and Madrid aim to create “clean air zones” by enforcing strict regulations within the inner-city borders, China has acknowledged the need to speed up the construction and usage of electric vehicles to ensure that decent levels of air quality can be maintained in the country, Bangladesh high court has put together several directives aimed at ministries across the country to take actions to counter the effects of air pollution on its citizens (Hadley S., 2020).

Reducing the impacts from poor air quality

Outdoor air quality is an important factor that plays into the well-being of one’s physical health. While there is no way to completely protect yourself from poor air quality, here are some preventative measures you can take to avoid or reduce the impacts it could have on your physical health:

  • Periodically check air quality forecasts to ensure that you stay indoors during peak hours of poor air quality. 
  • Limit your exposure to poor air quality especially during traveling or being in traffic.
  • Wear masks to reduce the intake of airborne pollutants into your bloodstream through the respiratory system
  • Wear protective glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes from long-term exposure to air pollution as pollutants can enter your body through your eyes as well
  • Using alternatively fueled items such as hand-powered or electrically powered devices. 
  • If you have been diagnosed with asthma, make sure to carry your inhaler at all times and make a note to stay away from heavily polluted areas
  • Stay away from tobacco smoke and ban indoor smoking.
  • Ensure proper indoor air quality through proper ventilation and exhaust fans, or by installing an air purifier. 
  • Get rid of unwanted chemicals such as strong cleaning agents, paints, air fresheners, hairsprays, varnishes, etc. 
  • Use natural products wherever and whenever possible, especially for cleaning and maintenance purposes
  • Ensure that all ventilation systems are periodically monitored and cleaned, this also includes changing or cleaning the filters in your air purifier
  • Have periodical assessments of indoor air quality with help from consulting professionals from an environmental monitoring company 
  • Get air purifying plants as they are a natural and eco-friendly solution to cleaning the air and producing fresh oxygen
  • Invest in air quality monitors, sensors, or alarms that can measure indoor air quality at all times and alert you when the air quality is poor or when a certain pollutant’s concentration has increased. 

Hold your government accountable

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with several other, global and national commitments made, each and every one of us is entitled to being able to live in a clean and healthy environment without threat to many facets of our physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health; and each of us is entitled to a life with dignity. The nature of a profit-driven world is that it leaves the ground-level communities at risk of extreme dangers from chronic health conditions like cancer and cardiovascular diseases to the most minor diseases such as skin irritations. It is therefore important for citizens to hold their ruling governments accountable for the actions they take without taking into regard the environmental or health complications it could have on the citizens and their livelihoods. 

It is important that citizens, community groups, and regional and other large-scale stakeholders band together to meet nationally determined contributions and to ensure that global goals for climate change and reducing its impacts are met with utmost efficiency and effectiveness. While state actors would be hesitant to enforce regulations on larger revenue-generating actors, it is crucial to do so, in order to ensure citizens’ health and well-being. Various global initiatives are being taken by several actors, which shows us that it is possible, but it requires the extensive efforts of all involved stakeholders. It requires that each and every actor is aware of their roles and responsibilities as global citizens and that we move towards a participatory approach to saving the environment and being eco-friendly and sustainable in our everyday actions. 

Effects of air pollution on health

All airborne pollutants contributing to air pollution have different impacts on human health depending on the degree of concentration and time period of exposure. However, the most severe effects have been commonly attributed to the exposure due to particulate matter. This is so because these particulate matters have the capability to enter the respiratory system and damage the respiratory system. During respiratory processes, particulate matter is retained in the nasal cavities and the upper airways, whereas smaller sizes of these pollutants are able to penetrate deeper into the lung tissue, and eventually into the bloodstream. 

There are increased rates of mortality associated with particulate matter exposure, be it long-term or short-term. Short-term exposure and its effects depend on the concentrations of the pollutants daily, whereas long-term exposure looks at the time period of exposure at certain concentrations. There are increased risks associated with health effects as the time period of exposure or concentration of pollutants increases. These increases in the risks have been found most commonly in Southeast Asian countries, especially China and India. A Havard study conducted between 1974 to 2009, found that there is a 14% increased risk of mortality due to the effects of air pollution. Similarly, there are several studies that have found a significant correlation between increased incidences of diseases to air pollution. 

There are also various data that confirm a relationship between increased air pollution and the acceleration of allergic diseases such as eczema or rhinitis. Similarly, diseases such as diabetes and its cognitive effects have been found to be exacerbated due to prolonged exposure to air pollution. Studies have also found that there is a significant relationship between air pollution and gestation, and particularly there are increased risks to the pregnant individual and the child. Air pollution exposure during pregnancy has been found to lead to lower birth weights, increased incidence of stillbirths, delayed psychomotor development in childhood, etc. Further studies conducted in relation to air pollution at a household level, found an increased rate of incidence in skin and lung cancer and air pollution. Household air pollution was found to be an element of increased vulnerability that led to cancer in these individuals. Other cancers that could be triggered by air pollution include those of the cervix and upper aero-digestive tract. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): What are point sources of air pollution?

Are animals able to adapt to increasing levels of pollution?

Yes, over the years animals have adapted to anthropological changes that have occurred around them, causing them to modulate their behaviors and activities to suit the changes they observe every day. We can see this behavior amongst almost all kinds of species, from raccoons who scavenge for food from our waste to monkeys recognizing food amongst humans and raiding spots in search of food. Therefore, it is inevitable that animals would have to take some form of action to get away from pollution, this would be through relocating from their natural habitat, changing their predatory activities, shrinking their habitats, etc. just so that they can survive. Often the lack of clean water bodies and loss of their habitats often force them to relocate to other areas, during which there is increased wildlife-human conflict, leading to a large number of deaths amongst animals. Over time, scientists have observed more resilient genetics amongst animals, that make it capable for them to survive these changes caused by pollution. 

Where can I get reliable air quality readings from?

Air quality readings are available from several global and national actors. Private companies such as BreezoMeter and AccuWeather provide reliable air quality information with specific interpretations depending on your location. These can be accessed through their apps or website which continuously monitor air quality to ensure reliable and effective results. These platforms are also capable of providing information about pollen concentrations and specific pollutant concentrations that could be damaging to vulnerable groups of individuals. There are several countries that provide air quality readings as well, but it is always best to validate these readings with more unbiased sources, so as to ensure accuracy and proper interpretations. 

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

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Government Measures taken for Air Pollution: India

References 

Hadley S. (2020, December 21). Air Pollution is causing Permanent Damage to eye health. Viewed on 12-23-2021. Earth.org. https://earth.org/air-pollution-causing-damage-to-eye-health/ 

Mannucci P. M., Harari S., Martinelli I., & Franchini M. (2015, March 24). Effects of air pollution on health: a narrative review. Internal and Emergency Medicine. 10(6). pp. 657 – 662. Viewed on 12-23-2021. https://sci-hub.hkvisa.net/10.1007/s11739-015-1276-7 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (n.d.). Point Source: Pollution Tutorial. Viewed on 12-23-2021. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_pollution/03pointsource.html 

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