Air pollution has long been a major problem in the United States and other industrialized nations. The pollutants often found in outdoor environments are further detailed below.
Particulate Matter: The words “particulate matter” may not sound so intimidating, but these pollutants are not to be taken lightly. In fact, due to their small size, particulate matter poses a major threat to human health. If they are inhaled, these particles can force their way through lung tissues and into the bloodstream. Particulate matter is actually a mixture of many substances, including sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. It is released into the air by diesel/petrol combustion engines, cement manufacturing, smelting, coal burning and other industrial activities.
Black Carbon: Though it floats through the air for only a relatively short time, black carbon is believed to be one of the main drivers behind climate change. In addition to hindering agricultural production, this airborne pollutant is also responsible for increasing the rate of glacier melting.
Ground-level Ozone: If you’ve ever suffered from asthma, there’s a good chance that your symptoms may have been triggered by ground level ozone. Unlike other forms of pollution, ground level ozone is not directly emitted from industrial machines or automobiles. Instead, it is formed when oxygen combines with substances such as methane or carbon monoxide.
Nitrogen Dioxide: Found in both particulate matter and ozone, nitrogen dioxide is a byproduct of both power generation and vehicle traffic. According to the World Health Organization, evidence suggests that nitrogen dioxide can worsen both bronchitis and asthma symptoms. Furthermore, exposure to this chemical compound could very well lead to respiratory infections, and might impair both lung function and growth.
Sulfur Dioxide: As with nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide is harmful to the respiratory system, making it difficult for the lungs to work properly. Those with asthma and bronchitis can be especially harmed by this pollutant. Sulfur dioxide is released when fossil fuels are burned, as well as when certain mineral ores are smelted.
Carbon Monoxide: Lacking any color or odor, carbon monoxide (CO) is well known for its adverse effects on human health. CO is released into the atmosphere from motor vehicle exhausts, in addition to machines that consume fossil fuels.