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AIR POLLUTION EFFECTS ON HUMANS

1. Air Pollution Effects: Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a colorless gas with a pungent, suffocating odor. SO2 is corrosive to
organic materials and it irritates the eyes, nose and lungs; therefore it is quite a dangerous air
pollutant. Sulfur is contained within all fossil fuels, and is released in the form of sulfur dioxide
during fossil fuel combustion.
Because of the widespread use of fossil fuels, sulfur dioxide is among the most common air
pollutants produced in every part of the planet.
Sulfur dioxide may often act in synergy with other pollutants (ex., airborne particles) to produce
certain air pollution effects.
effects on human health:
Irritation of eyes, nose, throat; damage to lungs when inhaled
Acute and chronic asthma
Bronchitis and emphysema
Lung cancer

2. Air Pollution Effects: Nitrogen Dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas of reddish-brown color with a distinct sharp, biting odor. It is
often analyzed in conjunction with another nitrogen gas nitric oxide (NO). Together these two
gases are referred to as NOx.

Combustion of fossil fuels always produces both NO2 and NO.


NOx can destroy organic matter, ex. human tissue. Exposure to high concentrations of NOx can
make living organisms more susceptible to bacterial infections and lung cancer

For example, asthma sufferers may experience enhanced sensitivity after short-term NO2
exposure as compared to those without any asthmatic problems.
Another group at higher risk is children. For instance, children aged 12 and younger who are
exposed to NOx suffer more respiratory illness than the ones who are not exposed.

Depending on different NO2 concentrations in the air, nitrogen dioxide air pollution effects may
be as follows:
Increased incidence of respiratory illness
Increased airway resistance (due to inflammation)
Damage to lung tissue
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD (narrowing of the airways)
Emphysema (as part of COPD)
Pulmonary edema (accumulation of excessive fluid in the lungs)
Infant and cardiovascular death
It is important to note that nitrogen dioxide is a major component of the photochemical smog and
thus a contributor to the formation of ozone which is another serious air pollutant.

3. Air Pollution Effects: Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an extremely toxic gas which affects the ability of the body to receive
oxygen. Hemoglobin which transports oxygen in the blood is bound by carbon monoxide, which
leads to the shortage of oxygen in the body.
Carbon monoxide is the most common type of fatal poisoning in many countries around the
world.
Exposure to carbon monoxide may lead to the following air pollution effects:
Toxicity of the central nervous system and heart
Headaches, dizziness, nausea and unconsciousness
Loss of vision
Decreased muscular coordination
Abdominal pain
Severe effects on the baby of a pregnant woman
Impaired performance on simple psychological tests and arithmetic; loss of judgment of
time
In cases of prolonged exposure to high CO concentrations, unconsciousness, convulsions
and death would occur
Carbon monoxide air pollution effects are exacerbated in weaker people, specifically in those
with heart and lung diseases.
What makes this gas even more dangerous is the fact that it is invisible and odorless, and thus
not immediately detectable as a hazard.
4. Air Pollution Effects: Ozone Effects

Ozone (O3) is a poisonous gas with a sharp and cold odor.


It can be found in the stratosphere where it occurs naturally and plays a beneficial role by
protecting the Earth from ultraviolet sunlight; and in the troposphere where it occurs
naturally and also forms part of the human-caused photochemical smog.
It is of course the tropospheric ozone that we are interested in as an important air pollutant.
The chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the
presence of sunlight results in the photochemical smog; the tropospheric ozone is an end product
of this reaction and a component of the smog itself.
Because the photochemical smog requires a lot of sunshine to form, it occurs mostly in sunny
and heavily polluted places.
Ozones main victim within the human body is its respiratory system.
Once in the lungs, ozone burns through cell walls. The immune system fails to protect the lungs
because ozone pushes the defensive cells back. As cellular fluid starts seeping into the lungs,
breathing becomes rapid, shallow and painful.
Exposure to ozone over long periods of time leads to a stiffening of the lungs and a reduced
ability to breathe.
As an example, a study conducted in California in the 1980s shows that children living in ozone-
polluted areas have smaller than normal lungs and adults lose up to 75% of their lung capacity.
So, exposure to the tropospheric ozone may cause the following air pollution effects Burning
nose and watering eyes
Tightening of the chest
Coughing, wheezing and throat irritation
Rapid, shallow, painful breathing
Susceptibility to respiratory infections
Inflammation and damage to the lining of the lungs
Aggravation of asthma
Fatigue
Cancer
5. Air Pollution Effects: Ammonia Effects

Ammonia is a colorless, pungent, hazardous caustic gas composed of nitrogen and hydrogen.
Though ammonia is used for different applications in many sectors, agriculture is its largest
consumer and producer.

Gaseous ammonia is a dangerous air pollutant. Breathing in large amounts can cause death.
So, ammonia air pollution effects are: On the respiratory system:

Nose & throat irritation and burns (their severity increasing with the increased ammonia
concentrations)
Swelling of the throat and airways; airways destruction
Pulmonary edema
Chronic lung disease
Cough
Asthma
Lung fibrosis
Inhaling large amounts of ammonia can be fatal
On the skin & eyes:
Skin burns
Skin conditions, ex. dermatitis
Burning sensation in the eyes
Ulceration & perforation of the cornea (can occur months after exposure); blindness
Cataracts & glaucoma

6. Air Pollution Effects: Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are defined as organic compounds which easily evaporate
and enter the atmosphere.
VOCs are important pollutants for two reasons.
First , they are precursors to the formation of ozone (which is part of the photochemical
smog); second, they include compounds which are carcinogenic and mutagenic.
Typical VOCs include propane, benzene, ethanol, methanol, ether, carbon tetrachloride and vinyl
chloride; substances such as petrol and resins contain many individual VOCs, and many others
are produced during combustion processes.
Toxicity of some VOCs and ensuing health effects are no doubt issues of serious concern.
For example, exposure to benzene and 1,3-butadiene is a suspected cause of around 10% of
leukemia incidence in the UK.
Exposure to toluene another dangerous VOC may lead to the dysfunction of the central
nervous system resulting in behavioral problems, memory loss and disturbance of the circadian
rhythm; toluene is also suspected to cause cancer.
Some other VOCs, ex. carbon tetrachloride and PCBs, are believed to produce abnormal
changes in fetus development and consequently lead to birth defects. Carbon tetrachloride also
leads to liver damage.
Vinyl chloride causes Raynaud's phenomenon (spasms in the small arteries that cause the
extremities to become pale and cold, as well as painful), necrosis of the small bones of the hand,
liver damage, and a rare, highly malignant tumor of the liver.
Benzene air pollution effects on human health:
Short-term breathing of low levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid
heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion and unconsciousness; exposure to high levels of
benzene may result in death
Chronic effects:
o Damage to the bone marrow
o Decrease in red blood cells (anemia)
o Excessive bleeding and depression of the immune system increasing the risk of
infection
o Leukemia
Let us summarize some effects of VOCs on human health:
Tiredness, vertigo, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, confusion, unconsciousness

Anemia
Bone marrow damage
Liver damage
Dysfunction of the central nervous system:
o Behavioral problems
o Memory loss
o Disturbance of the circadian rhythm
Cardiovascular diseases
Cancer; specifically leukemia
Abnormal changes in fetus development, birth defects
VOCs also contribute to sick building syndrome indoors
As facilitators in ozone formation, VOCs may indirectly contribute to respiratory
problems

7. Air Pollution Effects: Airborne Particles

Airborne particles are tiny fragments of solid or liquid nature suspended in the air (which are
called aerosols).
Particles may be primary when emitted into the atmosphere directly by sources, or secondary
when formed in the atmosphere through the interaction of primary pollutants.
For example, sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides are primary pollutants which may transform in
the air into sulfates and nitrates.
Dust particles are solid particles between 1 and 100 m (micrometres) in diameter; fumes,
or smoke, are solid particles less than 1 m in diameter.
Experts believe that dust is the most damaging among all widely measured air pollutants.

Smaller dust particles are more dangerous than larger ones because they can penetrate deep into
the lungs being deposited on areas where the bodys natural clearance mechanisms such as
coughing cannot remove them.

Combustion of fossil fuels by road transport, power plants etc. is a major source of particulate air
pollution.
Particles may come in a whole variety of chemical compositions including heavy metals such as
cadmium, mercury and lead.
They often act in synergy with other air pollutants, ex. sulfur dioxide, to produce negative health
effects in humans.
As the levels of particulate pollution rise, it commonly causes the following air pollution effects:
Stuffy noses, sinusitis
Sore throats
Wet cough, dry cough, phlegm
Head colds
Burning eyes
Wheezing; shortness of breath
Lung disease
Chest discomfort or pain
As with other pollutants, children are of course more susceptible to particulate pollution.
Specific childrens disorders caused by airborne particles may include:
Infant death
Low birth weight
Reduced lung function
Here is a summary of the particulate air pollution effects provided by the US Environmental
Protection Agency:
Increased respiratory symptoms (ex. irritation of the airways, coughing, difficulty
breathing)
Decreased lung function
Aggravated asthma
Chronic bronchitis
Irregular heartbeat
Nonfatal heart attacks
Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
Indeed, particulate pollution affects both developed and developing countries:
o For example, a major study conducted in the US between 1982 and 1989 found
that people living in American cities with the highest levels of particulate air
pollution were 15% to 17% more likely to die one to three years early
o In another example, particulate air pollution is linked to nearly 350,000 premature
deaths in China and India every year
Air Pollution Effects on Ecosystem

One of the best examples here is that of acid rain and how it affects freshwater animal and plant
life.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are transformed in the atmosphere to produce acid
compounds sulfuric and nitric acids. These compounds then fall back on to the ground as
particulates or raindrops in other words, acid rain.
So acid rain also falls on streams and lakes, acidifies them and destroys fish life in these
freshwater ecosystems.

For example, in Sweden acid rain made over 18,000 lakes so acidic that all the fish died out.
Salmon species appear to be particularly sensitive to acidity.

Some other populations of animals in Europe and North America that have also been declining
due to acid rain are brown trout, mayfly larvae, beetle larvae, mollusks, and aquatic bird species
(ex., the dipper).
Pollution may also affect animals through plants on which they feed.
For example, pea aphids feed on pea plants exposed to sulfur dioxide in the air. High exposure to
sulfur dioxide negatively affects the health of the pea plants, and therefore, the health of the
aphids as well.
Some other examples of air pollution effects on animals:
Excessive ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun through the ozone layer in the upper
atmosphere which is eroded by some air pollutants, may cause skin cancer in wildlife
Tropospheric ozone may damage lung tissues of animals

Air pollution can have both long-term and short-term effects on plants.
o Physical injury to leaves is the immediate effect of air pollution on plants. Here is
how leaves are affected by different air pollutants:

o Ozone produces a speckle of brown spots, which appear on the flat areas of leaf
between the veins
o Sulfur dioxide: larger bleached-looking areas
o Nitrogen dioxide: irregular brown or white collapsed lesions on intercostal tissue
and near the leaf edge
o Ammonia: unnatural green appearance with tissue drying out

Of all main air pollutants, sulfur dioxide often comes up as the one that most negatively affects
plants & trees.
Sulfur dioxide may also affect higher plants, including wild species, crops and trees (though
some species may develop sulfur dioxide tolerant populations in response to long-term
exposure).
These air pollution effects may be:
Cell metabolism disruption (membrane damage, respiration and
photosynthetic effects)
Leaf injury and loss
Reduced growth and reproduction
Increase in susceptibility of plants to attacks by insect herbivores
Nitrogen dioxide , another air pollutant, may act in synergy with sulfur dioxide to
produce a negative effect on plants photosynthesis.
Tropospheric ozone can prevent plant respiration by blocking stomata and negatively
affecting plants photosynthesis rates which will stunt plant growth; ozone can also decay
plant cells directly by entering stomata.
Particles, just like ozone, often affect plants & trees via blocking of leaf stomata through
which plants undertake the gas exchange necessary for photosynthesis and respiration.

Dusts may also affect ecosystems through their action on soil. Thus the alkaline chemistry of
limestone dusts can raise the soil pH of acid and neutral habitats, resulting in the loss of plant
and animal species.
So, particulate air pollution effects on plants & trees may be as follows:

Blocked stomata
Increased leaf temperature
Reduced photosynthesis
Reduced fruit set, leaf growth, pollen growth
Reduced tree growth
Leaf necrosis and chlorosis, bark peeling
Acid rain (a product of air pollution) severely affects trees and plants as well.
It can kill trees, destroy the leaves of plants, can infiltrate soil by making it unsuitable for
purposes of nutrition and habitation.
It is also associated with the reduction in forest and agricultural yields.

Economic Losses as Air Pollution Effects


Apart from direct health-related and other environmental issues, air pollution brings with it
economic losses as well.
Some of the economic losses caused by air pollution are as follows:
Direct medical losses
Lost income from being absent from work
Decreased productivity
Travel time losses due to reduced visibility
Losses from repair of damage to buildings
Increased costs of cleaning
Losses due to damage to crops & plants

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