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The Air around Us
Smoke, haze, dust, odors, corrosive gases, noise, and toxic compounds are present nearly everywhere, even in the most remote, pristine wilderness. Air pollution is generally the most widespread and obvious kind of environmental damage. Over the past twenty years, air quality has improved appreciably in most cities in the developed world. Air quality in the developing world has been getting much worse.
Metals and Halogens
- Many toxic metals are mined and used in manufacturing processes or occur as trace elements in fuels, especially coal. - Lead * Worldwide lead emissions amount to about 2 million metric tons per year, or two-thirds of all metallic pollution. * Most lead is from leaded gasoline. * An estimated 20 percent of all inner-city children suffer some degree of mental retardation from high environmental lead levels. - Mercury * Two largest sources of atmospheric mercury appear to be coal-burning power plants and waste incinerators. - Other toxic metals of concern are nickel, beryllium, cadmium, thallium, uranium, cesium, and plutonium. - Halogens (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine) are highly reactive and generally toxic in their elemental form. - About 600 million tons of highly persistent chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are used annually worldwide in spray propellants, refrigeration compressors, and for foam blowing. * CFCs diffuse into the stratosphere where they release chlorine and fluorine atoms that destroy the ozone shield that protects the earth from U.V. radiation.
Indoor Air Pollution
• The EPA has found that indoor concentrations of toxic air pollutants are often higher than outdoors. • People generally spend more time inside than out and therefore are exposed to higher doses of these pollutants. • Smoking is the most important air pollutant in the United States in terms of human health. • In some cases, indoor air in homes has concentrations of chemicals that would be illegal outside or in the workplace. • “Green design” principles can make indoor spaces both healthier and more pleasant. • In less-developed countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America where such organic fuels as firewood, charcoal, dried dung, and agricultural wastes make up the majority of household energy, smoky, poorly ventilated heating and cooking fires represent the greatest source of indoor air pollution.
Health Effect vs. Air Pollutants
Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health
• Heart attacks, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer all are significantly higher in people
• • • • • • who breathe dirty air, compared to matching groups in cleaner environments. Conditions are often much worse in other countries than Canada or the United States. The United Nations estimates that at least 1.3 billion people around the world live in areas where air is dangerously polluted. The most common route of exposure to air pollutants is by inhalation, but direct absorption through the skin or contamination of food and water are also important pathways. Because they are strong oxidizing agents, sulfates, SO2, NOx, and O3 act as irritants that damage delicate tissues in the eyes and respiratory passages. Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin and decreases the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. Some important chronic health effects of air pollutants include bronchitis and emphysema. - Bronchitis: persistent inflammation of bronchi and bronchioles (large and small airways in the lung) that cause a painful cough and involuntary muscle spasms that constrict airways. - Emphysema: an irreversible obstructive lung disease in which airways become permanently constricted and alveoli are damaged or even destroyed. Half of all lungs examined at autopsy in the United States have some degree of alveolar deterioration. Smoking is undoubtedly the largest cause of obstructive lung disease and preventable death in the world.
Plant Pathology • In the early days of industrialization, fumes from furnaces, smelters, refineries, and chemical plants often destroyed vegetation and created desolate, barren landscapes around mining and manufacturing centers. - Copper-nickel smelter at Sudbury, Ontario, is a notorious example of air pollution effects on vegetation and ecosystems. • There are two probable ways that air pollutants damage plants. - They can be directly toxic, damaging sensitive cell membranes much as irritants do in human lungs. - They can act as metabolic regulators or plant hormones and disrupt normal patterns of growth and development. • Synergistic effects: effects caused following exposure to two factors which together is more than the sum of exposure to each factor individually. • Pollutant levels too low to produce visible symptoms of damage may still have important effects.
Emission of Air Pollutants
U.S. Air Pollutant Sources
How about Taiwan?
ble 1.19: Global natural and anthropogenic emissions of different spec
Species CO2 CH4 CO
U.S. Particulate Emissions
Reduction in Carbon Monoxide Emissions
Reduction in Sulfur Dioxide Emissions
Air Pollutions vs. Environmental Problems
♦ Photochemical smog ♦ Ozone depletion ♦ Acid precipitation ♦ Global warming
a complex mixture of ozone, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons
What’s in smog
particulates (especially lead) nitrous oxides potassium carbon monoxide other toxic chemicals
• Photochemical oxidants - Photochemical oxidants: products of secondary atmospheric reactions driven by solar energy. - One of the most important reactions involves formation of singlet (atomic) oxygen by splitting nitrogen dioxide (NO2). - Then the atmoic oxygen reacts with another molecule of O2 to make ozone (O3). - Ozone formed in the stratosphere provides a valuable shield for the biosphere by absorbing incoming ultraviolet radiation. - In ambient air, however, O3 is a strong oxidizing reagent and damages vegetation, building materials, and sensitive tissues.
Ozone map of east coast in 1998
Ozone formation in stratosphere,
O2 → O + O O + O2 → O3
But….CFCs (Chlorofluorhydrocarbon) usage provided excess Cl to the atmosphere,
O3 + Cl → ClO + O2 ClO + O → Cl + O2
Cl breaks up ozone and prevents free O from forming ozone
► In 1985, a disturbing discovery was announced: ozone levels in the stratosphere over the South Pole were dropping precipitously during September and October every year as the sun reappears at the end of the long polar winter. Why are we worried about stratospheric ozone? ► In the upper atmosphere, where it screens out dangerous U.V. rays from the sun, ozone is an irreplaceable resource. ► Exceptionally cold temperatures in Antactica play a role in ozone losses. ► Humans release a variety of chlorine-containing molecules into the atmosphere (e.g. chlorofluorocarbons and halon gases). ► Because these molecules are so stable, they persist for decades or even centuries once released. ► When they diffuse out into the stratosphere, the intense U.V. irradiation releases chlorine atoms that destroy ozone. At a 1989 conference, eighty-one nations agreed to phase out CFC production by the end of the century. Alternatives to CFCs exist including hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which release much less chlorine per molecule. CFC production in industrialized countries has fallen nearly 80% since 1989.
► ► ►
contains high levels of sulfuric or nitric acids contaminate drinking water and vegetation damage aquatic life erode buildings Alters the chemical equilibrium of some soils
Rain is typically with pH 5-6. (∵ CO2 equilibrium) Combustion of fossil fuels and industrial processes put sulfur and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere 2 SO42- + 2 H2O → 2 H2SO4 + O2 sulfate water sulfuric acid oxygen NOx + 2 H2O → HNO3 nitrates water nitric acid Acid rain has pH less than 5.
Acidity of Rainfall in the U.S.
• Acid precipitation: the deposition of wet acidic solutions or dry acidic particles from the air. • By the 1940’s, it was known that pollutants, including atmospheric acids, could be transported long distances by wind currents. • pH and atmospheric acidity • acidity is described in terms of pH (the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration in a solution). • pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 with 7, the midpoint, being neutral. • Values less than 7 indicate progressively greater acidity, while above 7 are progressively more alkaline. • Normal, unpolluted rain generally has a pH of about 5.6 due to carbonic acid created by CO2 in the air.
- Generally, reproduction is the most sensitive stage in fish life cycles. - Eggs and fry of many species are killed when the pH drops to about 5.0. - This level of acidification (pH 5.0) can also disrupt the food chain by killing aquatic plants, insects, and invertebrates on which fish depend for food. - There are several ways acids kill fish. * Alters body chemistry * Destroys kills and prevents oxygen uptake * Causes bone decalcification * Disrupts muscle contraction. - Acid water leaches toxic metals, such as mercury and aluminum, out of soil and rocks. - Studies in the Adirondack Mountains of New York revealed that about half of the high altitude lakes are acidified and have no fish. - Much of the western United States has relatively alkaline bedrock and carbonate-rich soil, which counterbalance acids from the atmosphere. - Sulfates account for about two-thirds of the acid deposition in eastern North America and most of Europe, while nitrates contribute most of the remaining one-third.
Forest damage - In the early 1980s, disturbing reports appeared of rapid forest declines in
both Europe and North America. A 1980 survey on Camel's Hump Mountain in Vermont showed that seedling production, tree density, and viability of spruce-fir forests at high elevations had declined about 50 percent in 15 years. * By 1990, almost all the red spruce, once the dominant species on the upper part of the mountain, were dead or dying. European forests also are dying at an alarming rate. * In 1982, German foresters estimated only 8 percent of their forests showed pollution damage. * By 1983, some 34 percent of the forest was affected. * By 1985, more than 4 million hectares (about half the total) were reported to be in a state of decline. Similar damage is reported in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, and Switzerland. Researchers at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire have shown that forest soils have become depleted of natural buffering reserves of basic cations such as calcium and magnesium through years of exposure to acid rain. Plant pathogens and insect pests may damage trees or attack trees debilitated by air pollution.
Buildings and monuments
- In cities throughout the world, some of the oldest and most glorious buildings and works of art are being destroyed by air pollution. - Air pollution also damages ordinary buildings and structures by corroding steel in reinforced concrete in the buildings as well as roads and bridges.
- Foul air obscuring the skies above industrialized cities has long been recognized as a problem. - Pollution affects rural areas as well (e.g. Grand Canyon National Park Sand henandoah National Park).
Solar Radiation and Heat Balance
Greenhouse Gases (GHG) Traditional GHG CO2
The Carbon Cycle
Regulation & Legislation
Clean Air Legislation
The Clean Air Act of 1963 was the first national legislation in the United States aimed at air pollution control. • Federal grants were provided to states to combat pollution, but the act was careful to preserve states' rights to set and enforce air quality regulations. • It became obvious that some pollution problems cannot be solved on a local basis. In 1970, an extensive set of amendments essentially rewrote the Clean Air Act. • These amendments identified the “criteria pollutants” and established national ambient air quality standards. • Standards are divided into two categories. • Primary standards: intended to protect human health. • Secondary standards: set to protect materials, crops, climate, visibility, and personal comfort. In 1990, the Clean Air Act was extensively rewritten and updated including provisions to address the following issues: acid rain, urban smog, toxic air pollutants, ozone protection, marketing pollution rights, and volatile organic compounds.
In 1997, further changes were made to the Clean Air Act; ambient ozone standards will be lowered from 0.12 ppm to 0.08 ppm. The EPA estimates that costs of these measures could be as high as $8.5 billion per year, but that they should save 15,000 lives, cut hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses by 9.000, and reduce chronic bronchitis cases by 60,000 each year. The EPA won't fully implement these latest standards for ozone and fine soot until 2008 to give states a chance to set up monitoring systems and to find ways to eliminate pollution in the most cost-effective manner. California has gone further than the federal government in making specific plans for air pollution control.
Current Conditions and Future Prospects
• Clean Air Act goals have not been achieved; however, air quality has improved dramatically in the last decade in terms of the major large-volume pollutants. • The EPA estimates that emissions of particulate materials decreased 78%, lead fell 98%, SO2 declined 32%, and CO shrank 23%. • Because automobiles are the main source of NOx, cities where pollution is largely from traffic still have serious air quality problems.
• The major metropolitan areas of many developing countries are growing at explosive rates to incredible sizes and environmental quality is still abysmal in many of them (e.g. Mexico City and many large cities in China). • As political walls came down across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, horrifying environmental conditions in these centrally planned economies were revealed. • Not all is pessimistic, however. There have been some spectacular successes in air pollution control (e.g. Sweden and West Germany).
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