What is the best solution to air pollution?

The below articles talks about air pollution, air quality, the best solution to improve air quality and reduce the impacts of air pollution, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality, air pollution, and mitigation strategies for the same. 

What is the best solution to air pollution?

There are several solutions to air pollution, which makes us wonder which one could probably be the best or work the most. The answer is simple, reducing our carbon emissions, is the first and most important step to addressing air pollution and poor air quality. Therefore, the best solution would be any that arises from the basic objective to reduce carbon emissions into the world every day. This could be via switching to electric modes of transportation, to avoid the usage of air fresheners to stop emissions of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) or particulate matter. 

Air Pollution

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)
  • Ozone
  • 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 towards 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. 

The best solution 

As air pollution and air quality are a rising concern amongst global citizens, there are several sources that claim several solutions for air pollution. What we don’t usually recognize is how to implement them in our daily life, or that we are not able to relate to the solutions that have been set forth. Therefore, any action that you’re able to take in an effort to reduce the carbon emissions you produce in your daily life, is the best solution. 

Every solution set forward is based on the principle of reducing emissions: especially those that arise out of mindless anthropological activity. So it doesn’t matter on what scale you do it, as long as it is done consistently, as changes do not occur within a day. When Olympics was to be conducted in Beijing, global authorities were immensely concerned about the high levels of pollution in the country, which would drastically affect the athlete’s behaviors and performances, in order to address these concerns; the government made quick and drastic measures to address poor air quality. These measures were conducted in a span of a couple of months and had already shown significant results such as improvement of air quality by 10% within 3 months of these measures. While these measures were lifted following the Olympics, it is always a clear example of how constant and continuous strict measures can create significant changes in the environment around us.

Climate interventions don’t need to have bells and whistles to be effective, they need to be grounded in the principles of being efficient, effective, sustainable, and holistic in nature. Any action recommended and enforced needs to be accessible and affordable to all citizens, regardless of intersectional identities. Reducing carbon emissions looks different for different communities and groups of people across the world. It could start with reducing the number of flights you take in a year, to choosing to use clean sources of energy for your household stove. It can be through using eco-friendly and sustainable objects rather than supporting the activities conducted by large-scale manufacturers and extractive industries. Each of these changes made will have impacts that last and is sustainable when people decide what they can do within their capacities to be more eco-friendly and reduce their carbon footprint. 

Making environment-friendly decisions doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult, it rests within each of our hands to do what we can to create a better world tomorrow. In the incidents of wildfires in 2021, several were created due to mindless activities conducted by humans without concern for the environment around us, and the consequences were dire. From not being conscious of where people extinguish their cigarettes to environmentally dangerous gender reveals and campfires, humans have been at the forefront of environmental destruction. It is easier to think put the onus of saving the environment on larger global and national actors, however, we cannot ignore that the massive responsibility lies with us to address these needs, from making decisions in our everyday lives to holding larger actors accountable to their actions and forcing them to address climate needs. This isn’t to say that global and national actors do not have any responsibility, or that they can cruise on the actions of the citizens to mitigate the risks they create. 

At the current rate of environmental destruction, we see an unfair brunt that is being paid by the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the world. In a profit-driven world where actions are based on the money they would make rather than looking at the consequences of these actions, it is important that we change our behaviors and consumption patterns to meet the needs of the changing world. In the words of Greta Thunberg:

“To all of you who choose to look the other way every day because you seem more frightened of the changes that can prevent catastrophic climate change than the catastrophic climate change itself. Your silence is worst of all.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): What is the best solution to air 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. 

How do I know what the different numbers and colors mean in an AQI?

Sourced from The Air Quality Index Scale as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA):

AQIPollution LevelHealth ImplicationsCautionary Statement 
0 – 50GoodAir quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no riskNone
51 -100ModerateAir quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants, there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.Vulnerable and at-risk children and adults, people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
101-150Unhealthy for Sensitive GroupsMembers of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.Vulnerable and at-risk children and adults, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion.
151-200UnhealthyEveryone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effectsActive children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
201-300Very UnhealthyHealth warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.
300+HazardousEmergency Health Alert: everyone has a higher vulnerability to experience more serious health effectsEveryone should avoid all outdoor exertion

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

Are there effects on biodiversity due to air pollution?

Government Measures taken for Air Pollution: India

Does smoking cause air pollution?

References 

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 

Fuller R. (2020, July 06). The best ways to reduce air pollution and tackle climate change together. World Economic Forum (WEF). Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/07/best-ways-reduce-air-pollution-climate-change-together/ 

World Health Organization (WHO). (n.d.). Air Pollution. Viewed on 12-19-2021. https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_2 

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