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The effects of air pollution to vegetation

Introduction Vegetation is a very general term for the plant life, it refers to the ground cover provided by plants. The vegetation plays an important positive role in atmospheric purification and air pollutants reduction. The primary producers represented by plants are an important component in biogeochemical cycles. The vegetation made exchanges with a part of the atmospheric gases by photosynthesis, respiration processes, and the final stage of litter decomposition which mineralization. Environmental pollution is any discharge of material or energy into water, land, or air that causes or may cause acute or chronic detriment to the Earth's ecological balance or that lowers the quality of life. Pollutants may cause primary damage, with direct identifiable impact on the environment, or secondary damage in the form of minor perturbations in the delicate balance of the biological food web that are detectable only over long time periods. Air pollution is the process which the substances and the energy forms are not present in normal atmospheric composition reach the atmosphere, or are present but in much lower concentrations. Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the natural environment or built environment, into the atmosphere. The main air pollutants are represented by gases forms, particles in suspension, different ionizing radiation and noise. The gases forms are oxidized and reduced forms of carbon (CO2, CO, CH4), of nitrogen (NO2, NO, N2O4, NH3, NH4+), SO2, O3, C6H6 vapours, Hg, volatile phenols, Cl2, etc. The particulate forms are PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter, heavy metals with toxic effect (Pb, Ni, Cd, As), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons PAHs, etc. Atmospheric pollutants have a negative effect on the plants, they can have direct toxic effects, or indirectly by changing soil pH followed by solubilisation of toxic salts of metals like aluminum. The particulate matters have a negative mechanical effect. They cover the leaf blade reducing light penetration and blocking the opening of stomata. These impediments influence strongly the process of photosynthesis which rate declines sharply.

Acid Rain When an air pollutant, such as sulphuric acid combines with the water droplets that make up clouds, the water droplets become acidic. When those droplets fall to the ground as rain or snow, the acidity of the water can have damaging effects on the environment. When acid rain falls over an area, it can kill trees and harm animals, fish, and other wildlife. Acid rain destroys the leaves of plants. Acid rain does not usually kill trees directly. Instead, it is more likely to weaken the trees by damaging their leaves, limiting the nutrients available to them, or poisoning them with toxic substances slowly released from the soil. The main atmospheric pollutants that affect trees are nitrates and sulphates. Forest decline is often the first sign that trees are in trouble due to air pollution. Acidic water dissolves the nutrients and helpful minerals in the soil and then washes them away before the trees and other plants can use them to grow. At the same time, the acid rain causes the release of toxic substances such as aluminium into the soil. These are very harmful to trees and plants, even if contact is limited. Toxic substances also wash away in the runoff that carries the substances into streams, rivers, and lakes. Fewer of these toxic substances are released when the rainfall is cleaner. Even if the soil is well buffered, there can be damage from acid rain. Forests in high mountain regions receive additional acid from the acidic clouds and fog that often surround them. These clouds and fog are often more acidic than rainfall. When leaves are frequently bathed in this acid fog, their protective waxy coating can wear away. The loss of the coating damages the leaves and creates brown spots. Leaves turn the energy in sunlight into food for growth. This process is called photosynthesis. When leaves are damaged, they cannot produce enough food energy for the tree to remain healthy. Once trees are weak, diseases or insects that ultimately kill them can more easily attack them. Weakened trees may also become injured more easily by cold weather.

Air Pollution Harm Trees Whilst acid rain is a major cause of damage to vegetation, air pollutants which can also be harmful directly. These include sulphur dioxide and ozone. 1. Sulphur dioxide Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is the most important and common air pollutant produced in huge amounts in combustion of coal and other fuels in industrial and domestic use. It is also produced during smelting of sulphide ores. Sulphur dioxide concentrations in air have decreased in the past two decades, mainly because we use more non-sulphur-containing fuels for the generation of energy. Sulphur dioxide is a stinging gas and as a result it can cause breathing problems with humans. In moist environments, sulphur dioxide may be transferred to sulphuric acid. This acid causes acidification and winter smog. Sulphur dioxide, one of the main components of acid rain, has direct effects on vegetation. Changes in the physical appearance of vegetation are an indication that the plants metabolism is impaired by the concentration of sulphur dioxide. Harm caused by sulphur dioxide is first noticeable on the leaves of the plants. For some plants injury can occur within hours or days of being exposed to high levels of sulphur dioxide. It is the leaves in midgrowth that are the most vulnerable, while the older and younger leaves are more resistant. You can see the damage to coniferous needles by observing the extreme colour difference between the green base and the bright orange-red tips. The effects of sulphur dioxide are influenced by other biological and environmental factors such as plant type, age, sunlight levels, temperature, humidity and the presence of other pollutants (ozone and nitrogen oxides). Thus, even though sulphur dioxide levels may be extremely high, the levels may not affect vegetation because of the surrounding environmental conditions. It is also possible that the plants and soils may temporarily store pollutants. By storing the pollutants they are preventing the pollutants from reacting with other substances in the plants or soil.

2. Ozone Ozone (O3) is the main pollutant in the oxidant smog complex. Ozone is formed in the troposphere when sunlight causes complex photochemical reactions involving oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOC) and carbon monoxide that originate chiefly from gasoline engines and burning of other fossil fuels. Woody vegetation is another major source of VOCs. NOx and VOCs can be transported long distances by regional weather patterns before they react to create ozone in the atmosphere, where it can persist for several weeks. Seasonal exposures at low elevations consist of days when ozone concentrations are relatively low or average, punctuated by days when concentrations are high. Concentrations of ozone are highest during calm, sunny, spring and summer days when primary pollutants from urban areas are present. Ozone concentrations in rural areas can be higher than in urban areas while ozone levels at high elevations can be relatively constant throughout the day and night. Middle aged leaves and young plants are more sensitive to ozone. This pollutant interacts with SO2, NO2, PAN and heavy metals in complex manner. Ozone is created through photochemical transfer of oxygen. This process takes place under the influence of ultra violet sunlight (UV), aided by pollutants in the outside air. Ozone causes smog and contributes to acidification and climate change. Ozone is an aggressive gas. This can easily penetrate the respiratory tract, deeply. When humans are exposed to ozone, the consequences may be irritation of the eyes and the respiratory tract. The effects of ozone on plants have been investigated intensively for almost two decades. Studies made in controlled environment (CE) chambers, glasshouses and in the field, using open-topped chambers, have all contributed to the understanding of the mechanisms underlying ozone effects and their ultimate impact on vegetation. The biochemical mechanisms by which ozone interacts with plants have been intensively studied and, although the relative significance of different initial reactions remains unclear, there is a consensus that the key event in plant responses is oxidative damage to cell membranes. This primary oxidative damage results in the loss of membrane integrity and function, and in turn to inhibition of essential biochemical and physiological processes. A key target is photosynthesis, although ozone may also affect stomata function and so modify plant responses to other factors, such as drought and elevated carbon dioxide. These changes result in reduced growth and yield in many plants. However, it is clear that such responses vary in magnitude between species and also between different cultivars within species. The mechanisms by which some species and genotypes are protected from ozone injury are not clear, but may include differences in uptake into the leaf or in the various components of antioxidant metabolism. Ozone may also increase the severity of many fungal diseases, while virus infections reduce the effects of ozone in some plants.

Conclusions concerning the effect of air pollution to vegetation Acid deposition and ozone exposure have increased considerably in the past 50 years in Asia, Europe and the US, with many reports of tree/forest decline and increased mortality. In general, the more highly polluted forests have the higher rate of decline and mortality. However, there has been no recent chronic deterioration in the UK of tree condition. Since the early 1990s, peak concentrations of ozone have been falling, whilst the large reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions since the 1970s has provided an opportunity for recovery of many plant species. By 2010, atmospheric sulphur dioxide concentrations in the UK should pose little or no threat to vegetation. While forestry has long been considered to be adversely affected by air pollution and acid rain, recent studies show it to be part of the acidifying process. The rough canopies of mature evergreen forests are efficient scavengers of particulate and gaseous contaminants in polluted air. This results in a more acidic deposition under the forest canopies than in open land. Chemical processes at the roots of trees, evergreens in particular, further acidify the soil and soil water in forest catchments. When the forests are located on poorly buffered soils, these processes can lead to a significant acidification of the run-off water and consequent damage to associated streams and lakes.

The effects of air pollutions to human health

Air pollutants can be in the form of particulate matter which can be very harmful to our health. The level of effect usually depends on the length of time exposure, as well the kind and concentration of chemicals and particles exposed to. Short term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Others include headaches, nausea and allergic reactions. Short term air pollution can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema. Long term effects can include chronic respiratory diseases, lung cancer, heart diseases and even damage to brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lung of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditional to the elderly.

Substances and their effect on our health

Smoke Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions. Carbon monoxides Carbon monoxide is produced as a by-product of combustion. Any combustion process, fuel burning appliance, vehicle or other device has the potential to produce carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide is dangerous because it inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to vital organs such as the heart and brain. Inhaled CO combines with the oxygen carrying haemoglobin of the blood and forms carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) which is unusable for transporting oxygen.

Nitrogen oxides Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of a group of highly reactive gasses known as "oxides of nitrogen," or "nitrogen oxides (NOx)."Other nitrogen oxides include nitrous acid and nitric acid.. NO2 forms quickly from emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment. In addition to contributing to the formation of groundlevel ozone, and fine particle pollution, NO2 is linked with a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system. Long-term lower level exposures can destroy lung tissue, leading to emphysema. Concentrations as low as 0.1 ppm cause lung irritation and measurable decreases in lung function in asthmatics. Short-term exposure at concentrations greater than 3 parts per million (ppm) can measurably decrease lung function. Children may also be especially sensitive to the effects of nitrogen oxides.

Sulphur dioxides Sulfur dioxide is a gas. It is invisible and has a nasty, sharp smell. It reacts easily with other substances to form harmful compounds, such as sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid and sulfate particles. The main source of sulfur dioxide in the air is industrial activity that processes materials that contain sulphur Some mineral ores also contain sulfur, and sulfur dioxide is released when they are processed. Sulfur dioxide is also present in motor vehicle emissions, as the result of fuel combustion. Sulfur dioxide affects human health when it is breathed in. It irritates the nose, throat, and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly and most people would feel the worst symptoms in 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in. Those most at risk of developing problems if they are exposed to sulfur dioxide are people with asthma or similar conditions.


Air pollution may have significant effects on health have recently been fuelled by publication of new evidence linking low levels of ambient air pollution with small public health effects. The more exposure of air pollutant to individual, the more likely the health is affected. The main portal of entry is the respiratory tract which is very effective at dealing with noxious substances before reaching lower airways and lung tissues. For example, nose and upper airways are excellent at filtering and removing coarse particulate material before reaching lower airways.

Increased severity of effect

Deaths Serious illness e.g Cancer, Asthma Acute: Asthma attack, exacerbation of bronchitis, wheezing. Chronic: changes lung function Acute of chronic inflammatory changes in lung tissue. Changes in brochial reactivity, increase in respiratory symptom prevalence Minor asymptomatic changes in respiratory function or bronchial reactivity which are fully reversible

Increased numbers suffering from


The unaffected majority

The pyramid of health effects that may be associated with ambient air pollution

Short term health effect (minutes to months) Inflammatory cells in the lung Bronchocontriction Changes in bronchial reactivity Minor respiratory symptoms Hospital admissions for respiratory and circulatory diseases Deaths from respiratory cardiac diseases

Medium term health effect (months to 10 years) Increased prevalence of cough, wheeze, asthma, bronchitis Increased susceptibility to infection Reduction in lung function Reduction in lung growth in children Long term inflammatory changes in bronchial walls (smoke and

Long term health effect (10 or more years) Increased incidence of lung cancer Increased mortality from cardio-respiratory diseases