Chapter 21: Atmospheric Pollution Air Pollution Essentials Pollutants and Atmospheric Cleansing I.

The major components of the atmosphere are N2 (78.08%); O2 (20.95%); Ar (.93%); CO2 (.04%), and water vapor. Aerosols are also present in the atmosphere—microscopic liquid and solid particles such as dust, carbon particles, pollen, sea salts, and microorganisms. II. Air pollutants are substances in the atmosphere that have harmful effects. Three factors determine the level of air pollution: the amount of pollutants entering the air, the amount of space into which the pollutants are dispersed, and the mechanisms that remove pollutants from the air. III. Environmental scientists distinguish between natural and anthropogenic air pollutants. A. A naturally occurring cleanser, hydroxyl radical, oxidizes many gaseous pollutants to products that are harmless or that can be brought down to the ground by precipitation. Sea salts picked up from sea spray as air masses move over the oceans are a second cleansing agent. These salts act as excellent nuclei for the formation of raindrops. The rain then brings down many particulate pollutants from the atmosphere. Sunlight also breaks organic molecules apart. These three processes hold natural pollutants below toxic levels. B. Many of the pollutants oxidized by the hydroxyl radical are of concern because human activities have raised their concentrations far above normal levels. It appears that the atmospheric levels of hydroxyl are determined by the levels of anthropogenic pollutant gases; thus, hydroxyl’s cleansing power is “used up” when high concentrations of pollutants are oxidized, and the pollutants are thus allowed to build up to damaging levels. The Appearance of Smog

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