Air pollution is caused by the introduction of thousands of types of gaseous, liquid and solid compounds by animal activity, primarily human. The main causes are transportation, electric powerplants especially coal and oil, and industry, primarily steel mills, metal smelters, oil refineries and pulp paper mills.
There are six that are primarily regulated: particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone o3, lead. Obviously, without regulation, and proper knowledge and information for citizens, the costs of polluting the air are distributed among all citizens and life forms, while the benefits go to polluting producers and consumers.
The first of the six, particulate matter is primarily caused by fuel combustion road traffic, agriculture and industry. It is very unhealthy, as around 50% of the suspended particulates are able to penetrate deeply into the lungs and evade the body’s natural defense systems.
Sulfur dioxide SO2 irritates the respiratory systems, corodes metals, harms textiles, impairs visibility and kills or stunts the growth of plants, as well as cause acid precipitation.
Carbon monoxide is an extremely toxic pollutant gas caused by automobile emissions, and found at high concentrations in cities. It is odorless and colorless and causes the most severe reactions among heart patients due to it’s binding with the hemoglobin in the blood. There is an increase in heart attack victims during high periods of CO concentrations. Other milder effects include mild headaches and the slowing down of mental processes and reaction time.
Nitrogen oxide is caused by combustion at high temperatures, auto emissions and power plants, and causes shortness of breath, coughing, respiratory diseases; it stunts plant growth and visibility, damages leaves, reduces visibility and contributes to formation of acid rain.
Ozone 03 occurs when photochemical oxidants combine with oxygen sunlight and nitrogen dioxide which is emitted by tailpipes. Ozone season is considered to extend from May 1st through September 30th. irritate mucous membranes of the respiratory system, causing couching choking and reduced lung capicity. heart patients asthmatics and those suffering from bronchitis or emphysema are at special risk during periods of high O3 levels. also cracks rubber, deteriorates fabrics and causes paint to fade. eye irritation watery eyes. Plant growth is severely impacted. ozone accounts for about 90% of annual u.s. crop losses due to air pollutions. visible on leaves. ground level ozone interferes with a plant’s ability to photosynthesize thereby reducing plant biomass and lowering crop yeilds.
There are of course many other pollutants, as mentioned earlier, thousands of gaseous, liquid, solid compounds put into the air by human and other activity. While the six above have been identified as especially dangerous, it is important to note others. Congress found 189 other pollutants in addition to the six many of which are toxic and carcinogenic, including asbestos, mercury, beryllium, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, radionuclides, and coke oven emissions.
As far as aggregate health data:
2-3% of all deaths in the U.S. each year are attributed to air pollution-induced respiratory or cardiovascular disease. Similar levels of mortality due to dirty air have been reported i Poland and the Czech Republic. WRI (1996)
Today research indicates thatairborne particulates cause over 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone. (Schwartz, 2000)
According to WHO in 2003 urban air pollution reduces life expectancy in europe more than any other environmental risk factor. Who estimates that long-term road traffic alone is responsbile for 80,000 European deaths each year. worse in 3d world.
World wide 5-6% of all deaths each year can be attributed to air contaminants, both inddors and outdoors, WHO (saksena and smith, 2003)
Mystery of the dying lakes:
It is important to remember, that while our closest concern is for humans, air pollution is affecting all life and breaking down important components in our ecosystem.
417 acid rain. by 2003 surveys showed that in New York’s adirondack mountains approximately 41% of the lakes had become too acidic for fish and other aquatic life; the same situation applied to 15% of lakes in the new england states. In new Jersey’s Pine Barrens, fully 90% of tall streams are acidic. sulfuric and nitric acid, acid rain. Of course, these costs are not borne by the producers but by the many other affected.