Breathe in and breathe out. Quite a simple and satisfying reflex isn’t it? We all enjoy this feeling of being alive (I hope), but it seems that it is being taken for granted. It’s not the fact that we can inhale and exhale; but it is what’s happening to that air we’re breathing. Most people know of pollution – air pollution that is negatively effecting air quality and the environment. It seems like a large-scale epidemic doesn’t it? Yet, where has talk of air pollution gone? I’m no expert in climate change by any means, but I do know that there are challenges surrounding our air, and they need to be brought back to light.
Now most people recognize the cause of air pollution. We understand that relative problems, such as smog and acid rain, initiate from human activities. Our mobile vehicles, industrial processes, burning fuels for electricity and heat production, and other products such as paints and solvents, create this mess. However, many people don’t know the technicalities behind it. I for one didn’t, but I conducted some research and I’d like to share some of the scientific terms.
The air pollutants that are being emitted in the air by the above human activities release particulate matter (PM), which is composed of minute solid particles and tiny liquid droplets that remain suspended in the air. Major components of PM include sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, and carbon. It affects more people than any other pollutant:
Then there’s ground-level ozone (not to be confused with the layer in the upper atmosphere). It makes up the second key component of smog and joins PM as the two most pervasive and widespread air pollutants to which people are exposed. It’s a colourless and odourless gas at ambient concentrations resulting from photochemical reactions in the presence of sunlight, which is illustrated here:
So now with a bit more basic scientific knowledge on air pollution, effects and trends can be better understood. For both notorious pollutants, their concentrations seem to be increasing:
Fine particulate matter concentrations, Canada, 2000 to 2010
Ground-level ozone concentrations, Canada, 1990 to 2010
This data is from the recent decade, but as we look towards the end of 2010, both pollutant emissions seem to be increasing. To be fair, we were doing a good job in the few years where concentrations were comparatively lower, which is definitely what we should be aiming for again. I wish I could provide the exact reason(s) for the years of decreased air pollution, but the production of APC’s (Air Pollution Control technologies) may be a factor. These Canadian services in air pollution control (such as air handling equipment, dust collectors, and particulate filtration and emission control) have been effective solutions in helping clean the air.
Now what does all of this mean? Why do we need air care? The answer is in the big three:
The environment. It’s definitely the victim in all of this. It didn’t ask for ground-level ozone to damage vegetation, including crops, flowers, shrubs and forests, interfering with plants’ ability to produce and store food. This damage then makes them more susceptible to disease, pests and environmental stresses. We don’t want more plants looking like this:
Other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), can become acidic gases or particulates, and cause or accelerate the corrosion and soiling of materials. Along with ammonia, they cause acid rain which affects soils and water bodies, and stresses both vegetation and animals.
Humans. Also known as us. Although our health risk from air pollution relies on a number of factors (the level of pollutant and the level of exposure to it, health, age, etc), the harmful air quality can cause serious respiratory problems. Lung tissue cells, such as the alveoli, can be injured directly by air pollution.
Finally, society. We all pay for the effects of air pollution. There’s additional health care costs associated with hospital admissions, medications, inhalers, missed days at work, reduced worker productivity, reduction in the growth of crops, plants and stress leading to economic loss in forestry and agriculture (breathe). These add up. Air pollution costs Canadians and the Canadian economy billions of dollars per year!
So what can we do? The attainable solutions in regards to air pollution are quite simple. Individually, we can carpool. Why take you and your friends car to the restaurant when one of you can pick the other one up. Don’t worry you can alternate. However, why even take the car when you can bike or walk? This is a great choice, especially during the summer. You can help care for the air while getting some exercise; and if you really enjoy the outdoors and nature, plant a tree! Help produce some more oxygen. Finally, creating and using a compost bin can be a great practice. There’s already enough garbage so let nature do its job to help.
Without this individual initiative, we are left to rely on our government. In order to help care for our air, governments need to pay billions to implement programs, such as cleaner vehicles and fuel. Sure, they have all this money, but something tells me that they’d rather spend it on other things (like the economy). Plus imagine them getting rid of all those sizeable factories. It wouldn’t be a shot in the dark to say that won’t be happening any time soon. So essentially they are unreliable, which is why we have to depend on our own attributes. In the greater perspective, it’s a few billion dollars and a couple of small personal adjustments to aid in making our air cleaner compared to a few more billion dollars and more drastic alterations and adjustments to pay for the current effects. A hard choice isn’t it? I mean, it’s only our air.