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Health and Environmental Impacts of NOx

NOx causes a wide variety of health and environmental impacts because of various
compounds and derivatives in the family of nitrogen oxides, including nitrogen dioxide, nitric
acid, nitrous oxide, nitrates, and nitric oxide.
Ground-level Ozone (Smog) - is formed when NOx and volatileorganic compounds (VOCs)
react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Children, people with lung diseases such as asthma,
and people who work or exercise outside, are susceptible to adverse effects such as damage to
lung tissue and reduction in lung function. Ozone can be transported by wind currents, and
can cause health impacts far from original sources. Millions of Americans live in areas that do
not meet the health standards for ozone. Other impacts from ozone include damaged
vegetation and reduced crop yields.
Acid Rain - NOx and sulfur dioxide react with other substances in the air to form acids,
which fall to earth as rain, fog, snow or dry particles. Some may be carried by wind for
hundreds of miles. Acid rain damages; causes deterioration of cars, buildings and historical
monuments; and causes lakes and streams to become acidic and unsuitable for many fish.
Particles - NOx reacts with ammonia, moisture, and other compounds to form nitric
acid and related particles. Human health concerns include effects on breathing and the
respiratory system, damage to lung tissue, and premature death. Small particles
penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory
disease such as emphysema and bronchitis, and aggravate existing heart disease.
Water Quality Deterioration - Increased nitrogen loading in water bodies, particularly
coastal estuaries, upsets the chemical balance of nutrients used by aquatic plants and
animals. Additional nitrogen accelerates eutrophication, which leads to oxygen

depletion and reduces fish and shellfish populations. NOx emissions in the air are one of
the largest sources of nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
Global Warming - One member of the NOx, nitrous oxide, is a greenhouse gas. It
accumulates in the atmosphere with other greenhouse gasses causing a gradual rise in
the earth's temperature. This will lead to increased risks to human health, a rise in the
sea level, and other adverse changes to plant and animal habitat.
Toxic Chemicals - In the air, NOx reacts readily with common organic chemicals and
even ozone, to form a wide variety of toxic products, some of which may cause biological
mutations. Examples of these chemicals include the nitrate radical, nitroarenes, and
Visibility Impairment - Nitrate particles and nitrogen dioxide can block the transmission
of light, reducing visibility in urban areas and on a regional scale in our national parks.

What is it?
Nitrogen dioxide is an irritant gas, which at high concentrations causes inflammation of the
When nitrogen is released during fuel combustion it combines with oxygen atoms to create
nitric oxide (NO). This further combines with oxygen to create nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Nitric
oxide is not considered to be hazardous to health at typical ambient concentrations, but

nitrogen dioxide can be. Nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide are referred to together as oxides of
nitrogen (NOx).
NOx gases react to form smog and acid rain as well as being central to the formation of fine
particles (PM) and ground level ozone, both of which are associated with adverse health
Sources of NOx Pollution
NOx is produced from the reaction of nitrogen and oxygen gases in the air during combustion,
especially at high temperatures. In areas of high motor vehicle traffic, such as in large cities,
the amount of nitrogen oxides emitted into the atmosphere as air pollution can be significant.
NOx gases are formed whenever combustion occurs in the presence of nitrogen e.g. in car
engines; they are also produced naturally by lightning.
NOx emissions in the EU -share of emissions by sector group, 2011
The pie chart below shows that road transport and energy production are the greatest sources
of NOx emissions in the EU during 2011.
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Health Issues created by NOx

NOx mainly impacts on respiratory conditions causing inflammation of the airways at high
levels. Long term exposure can decrease lung function, increase the risk of respiratory
conditions and increases the response to allergens. NOx also contributes to the formation of

fine particles (PM) and ground level ozone, both of which are associated with adverse health
The impact of nitrogen dioxide on ecosystems
High levels of NOx can have a negative effect on vegetation, including leaf damage and
reduced growth. It can make vegetation more susceptible to disease and frost damage. A study
of the effect of nitrogen dioxide and ammonia (NH3) on the habitat of Epping Forest has
revealed that pollution is likely to be significantly influencing ecosystem health in the forest.
The study demonstrated that local traffic emissions contribute substantially to exceeding the
critical levels and critical loads in the area. The critical level for the protection of vegetation is
30 g/m3 measured as an annual average.
NOx also reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight to form ozone which can
damage vegetation at high concentrations.

Notes: Critical Level is the threshold level for the atmospheric concentration of a pollutant
above which harmful direct effects can be shown on a habitat or species. Critical Load is the
threshold level for the deposition of a pollutant above which harmful indirect effects can be
shown on a habitat or species.
NOx Level Objectives
Twelve European Member States exceeded one or more of the emission limits set by the EU
National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive, according to recent official data for 2010
reported to the European Environment Agency (EEA). In some instances the limits were
exceeded by significant amounts. The pollutant for which most exceedances were registered
was NOx.

The European Union sets Limit Values for a range of pollutants that are considered to be
harmful to health and the environment. The European Commission can take action against
any Member State if the air quality does not meet the Limit Values throughout its territory
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Nature and Sources of the Pollutant: Nitrogen dioxide belongs to a family of highly
reactive gases called nitrogen oxides (NOx). These gases form when fuel is burned at high
temperatures, and come principally from motor vehicle exhaust and stationary sources such as
electric utilities and industrial boilers. A suffocating, brownish gas, nitrogen dioxide is a
strong oxidizing agent that reacts in the air to form corrosive nitric acid, as well as toxic
organic nitrates. It also plays a major role in the atmospheric reactions that produce groundlevel ozone (or smog).
Health and Environmental Effects: Nitrogen dioxide can irritate the lungs and lower
resistance to respiratory infections such as influenza. The effects of short-term exposure are
still unclear, but continued or frequent exposure to concentrations that are typically much
higher than those normally found in the ambient air may cause increased incidence of acute
respiratory illness in children. EPA's health-based national air quality standard for NO2 is
0.053 ppm (measured as an annual arithmetic mean concentration). Nitrogen oxides
contribute to ozone formation and can have adverse effects on both terrestrial and aquatic
ecosystems. Nitrogen oxides in the air can significantly contribute to a number of
environmental effects such as acid rain and eutrophication in coastal waters like the
Chesapeake Bay. Eutrophication occurs when a body of water suffers an increase in nutrients

that leads to a reduction in the amount of oxygen in the water, producing an environment that
is destructive to fish and other animal life
Nature and Sources of the Pollutant:
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas formed when carbon in fuels is not
burned completely. It is a byproduct of highway vehicle exhaust, which contributes about 60
percent of all CO emissions nationwide. In cities, automobile exhaust can cause as much as 95
percent of all CO emissions. These emissions can result in high concentrations of CO,
particularly in local areas with heavy traffic congestion. Other sources of CO emissions
include industrial processes and fuel combustion in sources such as boilers and incinerators.
Despite an overall downward trend in concentrations and emissions of CO, some metropolitan
areas still experience high levels of CO.
Health and Environmental Effects:
Carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream and reduces oxygen delivery to the body's organs
and tissues. The health threat from exposure to CO is most serious for those who suffer from
cardiovascular disease. Healthy individuals are also affected, but only at higher levels of
exposure. Exposure to elevated CO levels is associated with visual impairment, reduced work
capacity, reduced manual dexterity, poor learning ability, and difficulty in performing
complex tasks. EPA's health-based national air quality standard for CO is 9 parts per million
(ppm) measured as an annual second-maximum 8-hour average concentration.
Carbon monoxide suspected in teen deaths" This headline was from a national news
presentation, but all too often, we see similar headlines throughout the United States due to
faulty heaters or cars left running in a closed garage. Fortunately, carbon monoxide is present

in much smaller concentrations in the atmosphere. There is no question that carbon monoxide
is a pollutant with potential to harm all living things. But, does CO also affect Earth's climate?
Unlike carbon dioxide, a compound that contains the same atoms as carbon monoxide, carbon
monoxide is not known as a direct contributor to climate change. It does, however, play a role
in this area.

Carbon monoxide is different than most pollutants. It can persist in the atmosphere for about a
month and can be transported long distances. However, it is not uniformly distributed around
the Earth. This NASA Science Brief on Carbon Monoxideexplains the issue further.

Although carbon monoxide is only a weak greenhouse gas, its influence on climate goes
beyond its own direct effects. Its presence affects concentrations of other greenhouse gases
including methane, tropospheric ozone and carbon dioxide.

Carbon monoxide readily reacts with the hydroxyl radical (OH) forming a much stronger,
greenhouse gas--carbon dioxide. This, in turn, increases concentrations of methane, another
strong greenhouse gas, because the most common way methane is removed from the
atmosphere is when it reacts with OH. So, the formation of carbon dioxide leaves fewer OH
for methane to react with,thus increasing methane's concentration. A NASA report indicates
that carbon monoxide is responsible for a 13% reduction in hydroxyl concentrations and
through other reactions, a 9% drop in sulfate concentrations. Sulfates are credited for
offsetting some of the global warming due to greenhouse gases by reflecting incident solar
radiation back to space.

Like many pollutants, carbon monoxide has both anthropogenic and natural sources. Natural

sources include volcanoes and forest fires while human sources (which make up over half of
all carbon monoxide produced) are mainly vehicle emissions and slash and burn agriculture,
but also include some industrial activities.

As automobile emission controls have improved in recent years, carbon monoxide emissions
in western countries have decreased. However, a rapid increase in industrialization and in the
number of automobiles in rapidly developing countries like China and India have resulted in
increased carbon monoxide emissions in those countries. Your team has been approached by
an international foundation concerned about this increase. They are looking forward to your
Earth System Science (ESS) analysis.

Biomass burning is the burning of vegetation. This burning includes fires started by lightning
and fires started by humans. The latter includes fires for the purpose of land clearing to
increase agricultural areas or to get rid of the stubble from the previous year's crops. NASA
satellites are able to track the huge plumes of carbon monoxide resulting from these fires. For
example, during 2007, large portions of Southeast Asia were blanketed by the smoke from
human-induced fires
Air pollutants are substances that adversely affect the environment by interfering with
climate, the physiology of plants, animal species, entire ecosystems, as well as with human
property in the form of agricultural crops or man-made structures. We list climate at the top of
the list to reflect the fact that global climate change has been recognized as one of the most
important environmental challenges to be faced by humanity in the 21st century. In this
context certain climate forcing agentsthe most important one being carbon dioxidewhich
otherwise cause no harm to living organisms, should be added to the list of classic
pollutants, along with such compounds as oxides of nitrogen or sulfur. On the other hand,

climate research has linked certain compounds long recognized as air pollutants (for instance
black carbon) to the warming of climate, thus providing one more reason for their control.
Air pollutants can originate from natural or anthropogenic (man-made) sources, or both.
Examples of natural sources of pollution include volcanic eruptions or wind erosion.
Emissions from internal combustion engines are an exemplary source of anthropogenic
pollution. Some sources of pollution, such as forest fires, can be related to both natural
phenomena and human activities.
Atmospheric reactions can transform primary pollutants into different chemical species. These
reactions can produce both harmless compounds and secondary air pollutants that may be
more harmful than their precursors.
The worlds most important air pollutants, their sources, and known or suspected
environmental effects are listed in Table 1 (after [Sher 1998]).
Diesel Emissions Health and Environmental Effects
Diesel exhaust is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. The primary pollutants
emitted from diesel engines include:

Particulate matter (PM)

Carbon monoxide (CO)

Nitrogen oxides (NOx)

Hydrocarbons (HC)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Other chemicals that are classified as hazardous air pollutants under The Clean Air

Health studies show that exposure to diesel exhaust primarily affects the respiratory system
and worsens asthma, allergies, bronchitis, and lung function. There is some evidence that
diesel exhaust exposure can increase the risk of heart problems, premature death, and lung
Particulate Matter (PM)
Particulate matter is the term for solid or liquid particles. Some particles are large or dark
enough to be seen as soot or smoke, but most are fine particulate matter. Fine particulate
matter is composed of very small objects found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke,
and liquid droplets. Ninety percent of diesel particulate matter is fine - more commonly
referred to as PM2.5 (less than 2.5 microns in diameter).
Particulate matter can travel deep into the lungs where it can aggravate asthma, chronic
bronchitis, emphysema, and other lung conditions. Our respiratory system filters out larger
particles, but smaller particles get trapped in the lungs, while the smallest are so tiny they pass
through the lungs into the blood stream. Particles may trigger or cause significant health
problems, such as:

Coughing and difficult or painful breathing

Aggravated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema

Decreased lung function

Weakening of the heart, heart attacks

Premature death

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning
of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. The main source of carbon monoxide in our air is vehicle
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, is the generic term for a group of highly reactive gases, all of
which contain nitrogen and oxygen in varying amounts. Many of the nitrogen oxides are
colorless and odorless. However, one common pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) along with
particles in the air can often be seen as a reddish-brown layer over many urban areas.
Nitrogen oxides form when fuel is burned at high temperatures, as in a combustion process.
The primary manmade sources of NOx are motor vehicles, electric utilities, and other
industrial, commercial, and residential sources that burn fuels. NOx can also be formed
Hydrocarbons (HC)
Hydrocarbons are chemical compounds that contain hydrogen and carbon. Most motor
vehicles and engines are powered by hydrocarbon-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel.
Hydrocarbon pollution results when unburned or partially burned fuel is emitted from the
engine as exhaust, and also when fuel evaporates directly into the atmosphere. Hydrocarbons
include many toxic compounds that cause cancer and other adverse health effects.
Hydrocarbons also react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to form ozone.
Hydrocarbons, which may take the form of gases, tiny particles, or droplets, come from a
great variety of industrial and natural processes. In typical urban areas, a very significant
fraction comes from cars, buses, trucks, and nonroad mobile sources such as construction
vehicles and boats.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds are emitted from a variety of sources, including motor vehicles,
chemical plants, refineries, factories, consumer and commercial products, and other industrial
sources. Volatile organic compounds also are emitted by natural sources such as
vegetation. Hydrocarbons (HC) are a large subset of VOC, and to reduce mobile source VOC
levels there are maximum emissions limits for hydrocarbon as well as particulate matter.
Greenhouse Gases
Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human
activities. Naturally occurring greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous
oxide, ozone, and water vapor. Certain human activities add to the levels of most of these
naturally occurring gases:

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon Dioxide is released to the atmosphere when solid waste, fossil fuels (oil,
natural gas, and coal), and wood and wood products are burned.

Methane (CH4)
Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil

Nitrous oxide (N2O)

Nitrous Oxide is produced during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as
during combustion of solid waste and fossil fuels.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), solid

waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of manufacturing processes. CO2 from
fossil fuel combustion is responsible for almost all greenhouse gas emissions from mobile
sources, which include both onroad sources and nonroad equipment such as agricultural and
construction vehicles. Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere when absorbed by
plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.
Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is formed by complex chemical reactions of
volatile organic compounds (VOC) and NOx in the presence of heat and sunlight. Ozone
forms readily in the lower atmosphere, usually during hot summer weather.