The effects of air pollution are not confined to the atmosphere. Air pollution containing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide causes acid rain, which in turn pollutes aquatic resources and soils. Air pollution is responsible for a host of other ills including ozone depletion, smog and impaired indoor air quality. Some causes of air pollution are beyond your control. Other sources can be managed through changes in your lifestyle.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that fossil-fuel burning power plants supply almost two-thirds of the nation's electricity needs. Natural gas and coal make up over 90 percent of this amount, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fossil fuel emissions contain the major greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.
Vehicle emissions are another source of fossil fuel emissions and air pollution. Private transportation accounts for about 10 percent of your carbon footprint, or the amount of carbon dioxide your lifestyle and activities contribute to the atmosphere, reports Carbon Footprint Ltd.
Industry is a major contributor to air pollution. Industrial processes release pollutants such as nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons into the air. Agricultural practices, livestock rearing and landfills also contribute to atmospheric methane concentrations. The overall effect is an increase in the global warming potential.
Deforestation affects the atmosphere in several ways. Forests act as sinks for carbon dioxide through a process called carbon sequestration. Trees store carbon dioxide in their plant tissue as they take in this gas to undergo food-making. In effect, this action removes carbon dioxide from the air. When forests are burned and destroyed, this storage area for carbon dioxide is removed, increasing the concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Wood fires cause air pollution by releasing particulate matter into the air. These particles can become lodged in your respiratory system, causing irritation to tissues. The particles can also aggravate existing health conditions such as asthma, warns the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
You are still at risk of the dangers of smoking even if you are a nonsmoker. The University of Minnesota estimates that up to 90 percent of the American population is routinely exposed to secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains 40 carcinogens, making it an especially lethal form of air pollution.
Natural processes can contribute to the effects of air pollution. Natural events such as volcanoes and tornadoes can stir up debris and cause widespread air pollution. Natural erosion of rock and soils also releases toxins such as radon into the air. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Is This an Emergency?
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Air and Radiation--Basic Information
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: What Are Greenhouse Gases?
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Change--Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Consortium for Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrail Ecosystems: Frequently Asked Questions
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Particulate Matter--Health and Environment
- University of Minnesota: Secondhand Smoke Facts
- National Cancer Institute: Radon and Cancer: Questions and Answers
- U.S. Department of Energy: Fossil Fuels